It is time to recruit America’s forgotten workforces.

Are you struggling to find job candidates for entry-level job openings? It  is time to consider America’s forgotten workers—  the formally incarcerated and those with disabilities, including autism.

A recent and insightful article in The Wall Street Journal illustrates the success of people who have a high functioning form of autism. One is Nathan Mort (pictured above) who didn’t work for a decade and now tracks warranty claims for Gordon Food Service in Michigan. “A reason why I like my job is because it’s kind of the same thing over and over again. I really like routines. That is part of my autism,” Mr. Mort said in the WSJ article. Making his own money, he added, “makes you feel more worth something.”

Mr. Mort is part of a trend as companies realize the value of considering the disabled for their open positions. According to government data, 51,302 people left government disability programs in 2017 because they found gainful employment.

Another forgotten group of American workers to consider is the formerly incarcerated.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, the number of Americans with a criminal history has risen sharply over the past three decades. Today, 70 million adult Americans, nearly one-third of the adult working-age population, has a criminal record.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has published a definitive 2017 report on hiring the formerly incarcerated. It is titled, Back to Business: How hiring formerly incarcerated job seekers benefits your company.

Their report begins with an eye-popping factual observation. More than 640,000 people are released from prisons each year. However, because of the stigma associated with a criminal record, nearly 75% of formerly incarcerated individuals are still unemployed a year after release.[i] Research has found that the lack of stable employment increases the likelihood that an individual will return to jail or prison, and joblessness is the single most important predictor of recidivism.[ii] For blacks, the adverse effect of a criminal record on getting a job interview is 40% greater than for whites with similar histories.[iii]

The consequences of unemployment for this population can be ruinous for the American economy. At the national level, economists estimate that the gross national product is reduced between $78 and $87 billion as a result of excluding formerly incarcerated job seekers from the workforce.[iv] The ACLU reports that corporations like Total Wine and More, Starbucks, Home Depot, American Airlines, Kock Industries, and Under Armour have begun hiring people with criminal records. Smaller companies are also tapping into this pool of job seekers, including Butterball Farms, Dave’s Killer Bread and Haley House Bakery.

Economists confirm that hiring people with criminal records is smart business. Retention rates among the formerly incarcerated are higher, turnover is lower, and employees with criminal records are more loyal. At Total Wine & More, human resources managers found that annual turnover was on average 12.2 percent lower for employees with criminal records.[v] Electronic Recyclers International (ERI) saw a similar outcome: by adopting a program to recruit employees with criminal histories, it reduced turnover from 25 percent to just 11 percent.[vi]

The website 70millionjobs.com provides advice and a job board for companies who want to tap this underutilized workforce during a time of full employment.

70MillionJobs connects companies to adult Americans with some criminal record. Companies gain nationwide access to a pipeline of ignored talent—at scale. The website states that for large employers needing to hire hourly wage workers, it delivers applicants nationwide, on demand. Their clients include ADP, Thor Industries, Airstream, Checkr, BNSF Railway, and Perdue.

Employers from coast to coast are struggling to fill their openings. Reconsider hiring the forgotten Americans. It will be good for your business and the country.

Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and is a Managing Partner of InnovationOne. He consults and provides support to improve recruiting and retention, cultures of innovation, develop agile leaders and teams, integrate digital technology, and other strategic initiatives. Visit http://www.victorhrconsultant.com more insights and his valuable free reports.

The header picture was taken by  Erin Kirkland for The Wall Street Journal.

[i] Associated Press, “Ex-cons face tough path back into the work force: Advocates hope federal program will encourage employers to take a chance,” July 30, 2009; http://www.nbcnews.com/id/32208419/ns/business-careers/t/ex-cons-face-tough-pathback-

work-force/#.V_V1dY8rJhE.

[ii] 5. Justice Center, National Reentry Resource Center, “What Works in Reentry Clearinghouse: Employment,” The Council of State Governments, n.d.: https://whatworks.csgjusticecenter.org/.

[iii] Devah Pager, The Mark of a Criminal Record, American Journal of Sociology Vol 108, no. 5 (2003) 937-75; http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/pager/files/pager_ajs.pdf.

[iv] Cherrie Bucknor & Alan Barber, Ctr. for Econ. & Policy Research, “The Price We Pay: Economic Costs of Barriers to Employment for Former Incarcerated individuals and People Convicted of Felonies” (2016). (http://cepr.net/images/stories/reports/employment-prisoners-felonies-2016-06.pdf).

[v] Data collected by Total Wine & More. Processed March 22, 2017.

[vi] Matt Krumrie, “Why You Should Give Candidates with a Criminal Background a Second Chance,” October 4, 2016, https://www.ziprecruiter.com/blog/why-you-should-give-candidates-with-a-criminal-background-a-second-chance/.

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