Exploring Opportunities in “The Hidden Workforce”

Recently, Cabarrus Economic Development team members attended the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance’s workshop, “The Hidden Workforce”, which focused on talent acquisition strategies that are inclusive to employees with criminal backgrounds. We heard from experts on how employers can successfully tap into this often-overlooked pool of talent and how it benefits both the employer and the employee.

A Large Untapped Pool of Talent

A University of Georgia study estimated that in 2010 approximately 3% of the U.S. population (7.3 million people) were serving time or have served time in prison for felonies. The same study estimated that 8% of the population (19 million people) had a felony conviction, suggesting that more than 11 million people received felony probation without serving time in prison. Approximately 58% of felony cases end in probation rather than jail time (Source: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov).

According to Mike Coffey, Director for Business and Education Initiatives for Texas SHRM, data suggests that misdemeanor cases outnumber felony cases three-to-one. Coffey used this data, combined with the University of Georgia study, to estimate that about 57 million people have a misdemeanor or felony criminal case in their background. This seems plausible when compared to FBI estimates that 70 million Americans (one-in-three) have an arrest history and not all arrests result in a criminal case being filed.

Whether you go with 57 million or 70 million, it is safe to say that between one-quarter and one-third of Americans have a criminal case of some sort on their record.

Consider These Benefits

Second chance employers recognize that many criminal offenses would likely not affect an individual’s qualification for most positions, while other offenses might. A criminal history is one factor in determining whether an individual is qualified for a position. When given an objective framework for evaluating individuals’ criminal histories, employers are often more accepting of what might otherwise be disqualifying criminal histories.

  1. Former Offenders Are an Available Talent Pool
    According to a study published by the Prison Policy Initiative in July 2018, “formerly incarcerated” people were five times more likely to be unemployed. (Prison Policy Initiative). With an unemployment rate of 3.6% in the Charlotte region, employers cannot afford to ignore this huge pool of available talent.

  2. Longer Employee Tenure
    A Northwestern study titled “Criminal Background and Job Performance” looked at several employment characteristics for a large group of call center employees. Overall, the former offenders, which composed of about one-third of the workforce, were less likely to voluntarily quit compared to those without a criminal history. This may be attributable to several causes. Some employees may believe that their criminal history will make it more difficult to find new employment while others may want to avoid unnecessary disruption to the stable lifestyle that they have settled into. Having an open and accepting company culture also creates a higher level of employee engagement for individuals looking to reestablish themselves in society.

    Longer employee tenure has accounted for savings equivalent to 2.5% of wages for each former offender when the savings of not having to replace an employee were factored in.

  3. Good PR
    More and more consumers want their purchases to support social causes. This “cause-sumption” attitude is strong among millennials, but the expectation that companies contribute beyond delivering quality goods or low prices is growing in all age groups.

  4. Tax Incentives
    Businesses can claim a federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit worth up to $2,400 for hiring people in groups “who have consistently faced significant barriers to employment.” Some state and local governments also have incentives for employing former offenders.

For Individuals with a Criminal Background

NCWorks Career Center provides resources for individuals with criminal records to help them overcome employment barriers. For more information about this resource, click here.

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