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Record number of job seekers endure hurdles to employment

Mar 30, 2011 Matt Roesly

Government officials and employers throughout the country face the daunting challenge of getting millions of Americans back to work. However, that challenge may be even tougher now that nearly one-quarter of Americans have some form of a criminal offense in their personal histories. According to a new report from the National Employment Law Project, up to 65 million people pop up when employers run background screening procedures. The agency also found that an increasing number of job seekers are finding it more difficult to land jobs they are qualified for because of red flags that emerge from background checks. Additionally, companies are also increasing the sometimes unlawful practice of turning away qualified prospects because of their histories, regardless of how minor or aged the offense. The NELP states that the number of prospects being turned away because of a negative hit during employment screening is an ugly trend that is growing worse. The agency believes that "blanket no-hire policies" enacted by major companies reject "significant portions" of the U.S. workforce from qualified opportunities. Additionally, the NELP says such trends have led to an increase in lawsuits at a time when the Society for Human Resources Management found 92 percent of employers engage in criminal background screening "The fast-growing use of criminal background checks casts an extraordinarily wide net, potentially ensnaring millions of Americans who have an arrest or other record that shows up in a routine check," said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. "These background checks are supposed to promote safety in the workplace, but many employers have gone way overboard, refusing to even consider highly qualified applicants just because of an old arrest or conviction. They're not even bothering to ask what the arrest or conviction was for, how far in the past it was, whether it's in any way related to the job, or what the person has done with his or her life since," Owens continued. The NELP monitored job postings on Craigslist in major metropolitan areas to observe the rate at which companies publicly stated anyone with a criminal background should not apply - a clear violation of labor standards. However, the federal government is taking action to help those with a criminal background land employment. In February, The U.S. Department of Labor announced $11.7 million in grants to companies that hire individuals who have served prison time. The program specifically targets employers in lower-income or high-crime areas.