Providing employment for those with criminal records is becoming more important to our regional economy’s survival than ever before.
As northeast Indiana nears full employment, training the underemployed becomes essential to our ability to grow the local economic base. Skilled workers are the main commodity in a nation that has a 4.4 percent unemployment rate and a region with a roughly 2 percent unemployment rate.
Bloomberg News recently reported that the Center for Economic and Policy Research estimated there are between 14 million and 15.8 million working-age people with felony convictions. An estimated 70 million have some sort of arrest or conviction record, according to the National Employment Law Project, Bloomberg noted.
Gov. Eric Holcomb recently signed a bill into law that critics argue creates barriers to employment for convicted individuals seeking employment because the bill allows employers to obtain criminal history of a job candidate. However, an amendment to the bill does provide employers legal protection from civil action based on an employee’s actions under certain conditions.
We understand an employer not wanting to hire someone to work in a pharmacy who was convicted of dealing opioids, for example. But, say that individual is a trained accountant or machinist. The prior conviction, ideally, would not come into consideration.
Our pasts are not necessarily our futures. And, one has to wonder how much criminal history even matters if a company only receives one qualified applicant for an open position.
This is where nonprofit organizations such as Blue Jacket come into play. Blue Jacket, which is based in Fort Wayne but serves the region, works with area organizations such as Brightpoint and the Educational Opportunity Center to provide training, employment and vocational direction to ex-offenders with felony or misdemeanor charges.
The idea behind Blue Jacket is that, by providing training and transitional job opportunities, those with past convictions gain the confidence and skills they need to rejoin the workforce as reliable, hard working employees. The services provide the emotional and physical support some with criminal histories need. The organization also provides professional clothing and job interview assistance.
Our community needs to support organizations such as Blue Jacket because we need to take advantage of all the people who are here in our community. Our total current population needs services and we need enough workers paying taxes to support those services.
Additionally, in a region with such low unemployment, the skills of all workers need to be utilized in order to fill the labor demands of area businesses.
Such programs not only help our economy, they also allow the community to be just that – a true community. One that helps each of its residents no matter who they are, no matter what their back story may be.