The U.S. Chamber recently shared a blog post announcing April as Second Chance Month, marking the perfect time to highlight the work of business organizations like the U.S. Chamber and PA Chamber to help former offenders successfully reintegrate into society and the workforce. Eighty-one percent of business leaders say that second chance hires perform the same or better than other employees. Increasing employment of millions of formerly incarcerated individuals, or those with a criminal record, would help alleviate the worker shortage crisis and create opportunities for those who need a second chance.
According to a 2021 report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, “The Business Case for Criminal Justice Reform: Second Chance Hiring,” an estimated 70 million people in the U.S. have an arrest or conviction record, and over 600,000 men and women are released from jail each year.
Furthermore, there are 11.5 million open jobs in the U.S., yet only six million unemployed workers. Moreover, labor force participation doesn’t yet match what it was before the pandemic. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Nearly two million Americans are incarcerated in the U.S. correctional system with an additional 4.5 million on probation or parole at any time. Data from the U.S. Chamber’s America Works Data Center shows how a lack of opportunity for those with a criminal record is impacting workforce participation and exacerbating the worker shortage crisis in the wake of the pandemic.
Successfully reintegrating these individuals brings many advantages. First, individuals get a fresh start supporting and taking care of themselves and their families. Second, employers can benefit by tapping into a talented labor force to meet their workforce needs. And, third, society as a whole gains when ex-offenders are connected to employment opportunities and their communities in terms of reduced recidivism and development of human capital.
Connecting the formerly incarcerated with employment is critical, providing a secure income, stability, and a connection with other members of society. When employers align their interests with social service work – supporting housing agencies, health care providers, nonprofits, and the criminal justice system – the chances of successful reintegration are even greater.
The PA Chamber Leads the Way
The PA Chamber is proud to be part of the solution in second chance hiring. We were leaders in enacting the 2018 Clean Slate Law, a first-in-the-nation effort to encourage individuals with old criminal records to seek employment and help employers close a workforce gap. We’re now working to expand Clean Slate and support other criminal justice reforms in coordination with a strong bipartisan group of lawmakers who understand the myriad ways that these reforms benefit our communities.
Providing second chances is not a fix-all for closing Pennsylvania’s jobs skills gap, but it’s a big part of the puzzle and one we know we can work with lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle to get across the finish line.
This effort, along with other key workforce priorities –addressing childcare challenges; providing job training and career and technical education opportunities; and improving the Commonwealth’s overall competitiveness – will be critical in helping our state’s employers attract and retain skilled workers and make Pennsylvania the best state in the nation to live, work and raise a family.