Hiring Former Offenders Has Gone from Good Deed to Economic Necessity

“There are people out there who are willing to change.”

That concept guides the hiring practices of James Kallas, division president at Eurest, a food-service and hospitality firm that employs nearly 1,000 people in the Chicago area.

Kallas was faced with a problem: entry-level jobs at Eurest are hard to fill. The skills required to perform the culinary services the company offers aren’t easy to find among low-skilled laborers.

That’s when Kallas found Safer Foundation, a non-profit group that helps equip formerly incarcerated individuals with the job skills they need to find employment after leaving prison.

Now, Eurest is working with Safer Foundation to create a program that has the potential to supply the company with 30 to 40 well-trained employees a year. Providing much-needed help to the company and giving workers seeking a second chance the opportunity to earn $12 to $15 an hour, often times with benefits and the opportunity to climb the ladder.

Helping formerly incarcerated individuals is more than just a good deed though, it is becoming an economic necessity.

With the U.S. unemployment rate at 4.1 percent and 6 million jobs unfilled nationwide, companies are increasingly willing to hire people with criminal records, even those who have served jail or prison sentences.

According to Jeffrey Korzenik, an economist and chief investment strategist at Fifth Third Bank in Chicago, hiring ex-offenders can continue fueling America’s economic expansion for years to come.

Nearly 19 million Americans have a felony conviction, according to National Employment Law Project data. The economy is currently at a 2 percent annual growth rate, creating 200,000 nonfarm payroll jobs a month. According to Korzenik, once you run out of labor, “you hit a recession.”

The trend of companies hiring former offenders at a higher rate has been on the rise in recent years. Simple steps like employers deciding to refrain from asking about criminal convictions until after an applicant’s qualifications have been reviewed, also known as “banning the box,” can make all the difference.

Since the vast majority (roughly 95%) of incarcerated people will one day be released, it is in our country’s best interest to ensure that these individuals have an honest chance at making a living legally once they get out.

In addition to being the right thing to do morally, hiring former offenders holds the key to unlocking tremendous economic growth in this country. Companies are starting to realize this and hopefully, the stigma around hiring former offenders will become a thing of the past.