About 70 million Americans have criminal histories that may prevent them from ever finding a job, even for arrests or minor convictions that occurred in the distant past. Fourteen states and about 100 cities and counties have tried to help by barring public agencies — and in some instances, private businesses — from asking job candidates about criminal convictions until later in the application process, when they have had a chance to prove their qualifications. These measures help, but federal action is needed to ensure that people with criminal convictions are not unfairly walled off from the job market.
The fair-chance employment movement started out slowly a decade ago but has recently gained momentum even among conservative elected officials who recognize that keeping people from working is counterproductive. This week Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia, a Republican, signed an executive order that ends the practice of automatically barring state employment when there is a criminal record. The purpose is to cut recidivism.