Chambers: New Expungement Package Will Help Thousands Find Work

October 9, 2019

Crain’s Detroit Business

Sandy Baruah and Rick Baker

We talk to businesses every day and they tell us the same thing: there are simply not enough qualified, skilled workers to meet the demands of the marketplace.

When thinking about workforce development policies to address this crisis, we must consider expungement reform legislation. Unfortunately, the current laws, and lack of awareness of the expungement process, are keeping hundreds of thousands of Michigan residents unemployed.

State lawmakers recently introduced a six-bill legislative package addressed at expunging an individual’s criminal record. These bills have the opportunity to open up the expungement process to many Michigan residents who struggle to find a job because of their past criminal records as well as open up eligibility for a number of low-level offenses such as traffic offenses that are ineligible under the current expungement law.

Research shows that expanding expungement means massive economic benefits. Annually, the underemployment of formerly incarcerated people costs the nation between $78 billion and $87 billion in gross domestic product. Within two years of receiving an expungement, a person’s likelihood of being employed increases significantly and their personal income increases by 25 percent. With a stable career, returning citizens are able to support themselves and their families while being productive members of society.

Additionally, clearance of public criminal records reduces recidivism rates and fights crime, making communities safer. Employing someone who is formerly incarcerated is the best available recidivism-reduction tool. If a person stays out of trouble for five years or more, they are no more likely to commit another crime than any member of the general public. Past convictions do not predict future criminal conduct and should not be the basis for employment decisions.

Michigan businesses are primed and ready to support individuals who want to take advantage of the benefits of expungement and address the labor shortage. In fact, many employers already overlook criminal records to fill their talent shortages, giving workers a chance to prove themselves for their past mistakes — Bank of America has partnered with the Detroit Justice Center to provide a place to get records clear, among many other services for formerly incarcerated Detroiters; Cascade Engineering helps give returning citizens a second chance for successful re-entry and provides opportunities to former inmates they may not otherwise receive; and DTE Energy partnered with the Michigan Department of Corrections last month to train inmates for careers after prison.

What they have found is that an individual with a record typically performs no differently than other employees who do not have records. Employers report that these employees are actually often more productive, sticklers for attendance and timeliness, and have lower turnover rates.

The expungement legislative package will help residents of all age groups and across multiple demographics to take that first step to a new beginning. Finding employment should be an easy process for people who are not a threat to public safety.

The time is now to modernize this legislation and change the lives of so many Michiganders.

Sandy Baruah is the president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber and Rick Baker the president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Chamber. 

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Michigan’s Talent Shortage Requires Preparing All Types of Citizens

To ensure we are building the future workforce that the economy demands, the Detroit Regional Chamber is focused on supporting smart policy that will empower and prepare all types of Michiganders to fill the talent demand for employers across the region and state that tell us their top issue is a talent shortage.

The Chamber has advocated in the education and workforce space for decades with a focus on increasing postsecondary education attainment through policies such as increased dual enrollment and expanded, need-based financial aid, among other focuses on K-12 education.

There is a significant opportunity for the nearly 700,000 people in Detroit that have started college but “stopped out” before receiving a degree or credential to connect with the required education or training businesses need in their talent pool.

To get more of Michigan’s citizens into the workforce and continue to grow the economy, the Chamber supports:

  • Michigan Reconnect, to help connect a large portion of the adult population without degrees or certificates on a path towards continued education. This policy work is supported by the Chamber’s education and talent strategy program work that is already reengaging adult students with some or no college experience in the Detroit region to get them on a track to a degree or training certificate.
  • Going Pro in Michigan, to upskill and rescale adults who find themselves left behind in our rapidly changing economy.
  • Criminal Justice Reform, to reduce lengthy and costly sentences and provide age-appropriate rehabilitation. Currently, the Chamber is advocating for a six-bill expungement reform package is going through the Michigan House of Representatives that will open up the expungement process to many Michigan residents who struggle to find a job because of past criminal records and open up eligibility for a number of low-level offenses such as traffic offenses that are ineligible under the current expungement law.
  • Immigration Reform, to fix the broken immigration system and provide businesses with global talent that will help keep our economy competitive.

The data shows that getting our high school graduates into the right universities or skilled trade programs is not enough to produce the workforce pipeline needed to be competitive in a 21st-century economy and beyond. By engaging all kinds of populations, Michigan can meet the talent demands businesses require and be an economically competitive state.