People with records excluded from growing occupations

People with arrest and conviction records continue to demand that employers and policymakers remove unfair barriers to work. Their demands have spurred much-needed legislative change, including “fair chance licensing” laws that reform restrictions on working in occupations requiring a government license or certification. Such changes are crucial to achieving racial equity. Decades of biased policing and charging have left Black and Latinx communities with disproportionately high rates of records, thus compounding the economic disinvestment and other disadvantages resulting from structural racism.

In support of fair chance licensing advocacy efforts, the National Employment Law Project (NELP) recently developed a set of short fact sheets evaluating the legal barriers that face people with records who desire to work in growing occupations in eight states–Colorado, Delaware, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, and Tennessee. Given the confusing tangle of statutory and regulatory restrictions in most states, focusing on growing professions in high-demand industries may prove to be an important strategy for state advocates who seek to maximize job opportunities for people with records.

While specific economic trends vary, most states have seen job increases in healthcare, education, childcare, and private security. Indeed, many of those jobs were deemed “essential” during the COVID‑19 pandemic. These growing sectors are also government-regulated to help ensure consumer health and safety. Restrictions related to arrest and conviction records, however, are rarely sufficiently tailored to health and safety goals and instead often serve only punitive ends. In addition to preventing formerly incarcerated individuals from moving forward, such policies unnecessarily shrink the workforce and punish the families and communities of color that have been most impacted by mass incarceration.

NELP continues to advocate for broad, overarching state fair chance licensing laws to reduce licensing barriers across the board and provide consistency across occupations. However, such overarching laws typically (and unnecessarily) contain exceptions for various professions or must be interpreted alongside other regulatory or statutory restrictions applicable to specific professions or job settings. The result can be that immense licensing barriers to growing professions linger even when overarching laws seem positive. Of the eight states studied, Indiana appears to fall into this category: its general licensing law gets high marks, but it excludes the very professions where demand for skilled workers is highest. Untangling this maze of restrictions can be difficult; these factsheets may assist some state advocates as they seek additional reforms and, ultimately, greater racial equity in employment.

Beth Avery

Beth Avery is Senior Staff Attorney at the National Employment Law Project (NELP).

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