January 21, 2016

A Ray of Hope for Job Seekers with a Criminal Record

By Sen. Lena Taylor

This week, the Senate passed a lot of really bad bills. Honestly, it was a pretty gloomy day in Madison. But there was one ray of hope that came out of it all, known as “Ban the Box.”

A few months ago, there was a report showing Wisconsin has the largest unemployment rate amongst African Americans than any other state in the nation. It’s also no secret that we have the highest incarceration rate in the nation of African American men.  

Something has got to change.

Last night, something did.

For the past several years, I’ve pushed a bill called “Ban the Box.” If you’ve ever filled out a job application, you know the box I’m talking about. It asks you to check a box if you have ever been convicted of a felony.

It’s difficult to prove individual cases of discrimination, but the numbers don’t lie. Our city that leads the nation with the highest incarceration rate of black men and also the largest unemployment rate of the same group of men. The case is clear.

The case was also clear in Minneapolis, Minnesota. When the city of Minneapolis banned the box on their job application, they found they hired twice as many people with a record just looking for another chance at a job and a better life.

Last week, I reintroduced my Ban the Box bill, which would ban the box on the application for all employers. Employers could still inquire about a person’s conviction record later in the job application process, but at least people would have the chance to make a first impression to explain their story first and display their talent.

This week, the State Legislature banned the box for state jobs inside a terrible bill that dramatically changes the state’s civil service system. It was a ray of hope in a gloomy bill. Governor Walker has indicated he will sign the bill and when he does, it will give hope to many Milwaukeeans. A job with the State of Wisconsin may be within reach in the near future.

President Barack Obama is also fighting to Ban the Box. At the federal level, we are seeing positive movement thanks in large part to President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative. The President’s task force laid out a comprehensive plan to address the racial and economic inequities that plague boys and young men of color. As part of this initiative, the task force recommended banning the box in 2014.

In Congress, Wisconsin’s very own Sen. Ron Johnson is trying to ban the box with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) on a bill that removes the box on federal employment applications.

There’s no government program better than a job. I’d rather have people in the government workforce than in the government’s pocket. Banning the box is truly something I believe will improve our community. If you know anything about me, it’s that I won’t stop. As Mahatma Ghandi famously said, “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. Then they fight you. Then you win.” I’ve been fighting to Ban the Box for years. Yesterday was just the first of many victories to follow until we’ve banned the box from all job applications. The next step is to ban the box for local governments, including our public school districts and all private sector employers.

To join this effort, please sign up for my email list by emailing me at Sen.Taylor@legis.wi.gov, follow me on Facebook @SenLenaTaylor and follow me on Twitter @SenTaylor.