As of January 1st, 2018, a new state law affecting 7 million Californians will change the way businesses think about hiring. Signed by Governor Brown on October 14th, AB1008 - the California Fair Chance Act will require both public and private sector employers to delay background checks and inquiries about a candidate’s criminal record until a conditional offer has been extended.
California is now the 10th state to enact hiring reform to address the bias and discrimination that many with records encounter during the job hunt. Nearly one-third of Californians possess a criminal record, which can create real barriers to finding employment: a conviction record can result in a 50% drop in the likelihood of someone receiving a callback or job offer. It also affects one’s ability to secure housing, financial aid, or public assistance such as food stamps or Section 8.
One cannot overlook the communal benefit to empowering Americans with records through employment opportunities. Nearly half of U.S. children have a parent with a record, which impacts those parents’ abilities to pay child support and regain custody of their children. Families of people with records often pay the price when recently released inmates return home; 80% of families interviewed for a study on reentry experienced financial challenges or hardship as a result of supporting their unemployed family members with records.
It does a disservice to both the candidate and employer if a hiring manager rejects a job applicant due to an arrest or conviction history before assessing their skills and qualifications—it eliminates a number of talented job applicants from the recruitment pipeline that may be otherwise qualified. Companies that already have Fair Chance or Ban the Box policies have spoken to the value added by their employees with records: “In my experience,” the CEO of Red Restaurant Group, Brad Friedlander, says, “People with criminal records are often model employees. They are frequently the most dedicated and conscientious. A lot of doors are shut to them, so when someone gives them an opportunity, they make the most of it.” These findings go beyond anecdotal experience. Evolv, a company that profiles successful employees by evaluating human resources statistics, has found increased productivity in employees that possess records as compared to their peers.
The impact of this new piece of legislation reaches well beyond the hiring process and affects more people than just the employer and the candidate. A 2011 study found that employment was the most significant influence on whether a formerly incarcerated person re-offended. “Two years after release nearly twice as many employed people with records had avoided another brush with the law than their unemployed counterparts.” A three-year study found that a year of employment reduced the recidivism rate by 34%, as compared to the Department of Correction’s average recidivism rate. When people with records are given a chance at employment, it not only provides opportunities for those individuals and their families to achieve financial independence, it also increases public safety.
There are larger financial incentives too: because labor prospects are so poor for individuals with a conviction history, economists estimate the United States’ gross domestic product in 2014 was reduced by $78 - $87 billion. Another study found that when 100 formerly incarcerated people attained employment, their collected lifetime earnings increased by $55 million; their income tax contribution rose by $1.9 million; they contributed $770,000 in sales taxes; and they saved taxpayers over $2 million annually by simply not being in the criminal justice system.
California’s Fair Chance Act will benefit individuals with records by providing an opportunity to demonstrate their skills and qualifications before an employer becomes privy to their criminal history. It generates tax revenue and reduces the amount of tax dollars wasted on incarceration; it increases public safety by providing opportunities for people to reenter the economy; and it ensures that employers do not choke their recruitment pipeline when filling positions. At the end of the day, it is not just Californians with records that stand to benefit from the state’s new Fair Chance Act. When we as a society choose not to dismiss the most vulnerable among us as “criminals” and instead provide them the opportunity to demonstrate the best they have to offer, everyone benefits.