FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Could Martin Luther King Jr. Get a Job in Today’s America?

by Rev. JESSE JACKSON

Would a young Martin Luther King Jr. be able to get a job in America today? Would one of the thousands who went to jail in support of Nelson Mandela? Or the brilliant kids at the center of Occupy Wall Street? Unless we begin to enforce the Civil Rights Act, many Americans will find the doors of opportunity slammed in their faces.

Twenty-five years ago, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sensibly ruled under the Civil Rights Act that it is illegal for employers to disqualify job applicants based on arrest or conviction records unless the criminal record is directly relevant to the job in question. New studies show that companies routinely ignore this ruling — and the EEOC has not updated its guidelines for more than 20 years.

Now, under new Chair Jacqueline Berrien, the EEOC will meet this week to consider how to enforce the law. It is vital that the commissioners reassert the force of the original ruling and give employers clear guidelines.

A recent study by the National Employment Law Project revealed that more than 90 percent of employers use criminal background checks in hiring decisions. They routinely deny someone with a record any chance to review the charges. Nonviolent youth offenders are eliminated, even though data suggest that once an early offender turns 26, many are less likely to engage in criminal activity than the general population. Even activists arrested in nonviolent protests find that their records can be used to disqualify them. Such arrests can also affect one’s credit rating, and that, too, acts as a negative.

Given the extent to which this country criminalizes behavior, this is a deeply discriminatory practice. About 65 million people in this country, according to the study, have criminal records, the vast bulk for nonviolent actions.

And, as we know, our criminal justice system is still deeply scarred by racial bias. A disproportionate number of those with criminal records come from low-income communities of color. African Americans and Latinos are more likely to be arrested than whites, more likely to be charged once arrested, and more likely to be convicted and incarcerated when charged. For minority job-seekers, as the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law noted in written testimony to the EEOC in 2011, old arrests and minor convictions can turn into life sentences of joblessness.

Moreover, criminal records are notoriously inaccurate. Employers usually draw on an FBI database that relies on state records rife with mistakes that often equate arrests with convictions and too often include information about juvenile and other offenses that was supposed to have been erased.

The EEOC instructs employers to consider the age of the offense, the subsequent rehabilitation and the relevance of the offense to the particular job.

Gaggles of corporate lobbyists have pushed to delay action by the EEOC. But the EEOC has held hearings on this issue for decades. There has been bipartisan support for updating the guidance, particularly in light of the changing nature of the hiring process. Last year, the EEOC convened a meeting of diverse stakeholders and received about 300 written comments. The lobbyists, as the Wall Street Journal editorial page revealed, are trying to run out the clock, hoping the pending departure of a Democratic commissioner might “diminish considerably” the ability of the board to act.

Justice delayed is justice denied. It is time to act. The EEOC should enforce the law and give employers clear guidelines that ensure everyone has a fair shot at a job.

Rev. Jesse L. Jackson is founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Clobbers Ocean Life
Patrick Cockburn
The Terrifying Parallels Between Trump and Erdogan
Kenneth Surin
The Neoliberal Stranglehold on the American Public University
Lawrence Davidson
Is There a Future for the Democratic Party?
Robert Fisk
The Foreign Correspondent in the Age of Twitter and Trump
Dale Bryan
“Where Do We Go from Here?”
David Swanson
The Deep State Wants to Deep Six Us
Dan Bacher
Obama Administration Orders Speedy Completion of Delta Tunnels Plan
Mark Weisbrot
Obama Should Make Sure that Haitian Victims of UN-Caused Cholera are Compensated
Winslow Myers
The Light of the World
Bruce Mastron
My Latest Reason to Boycott the NFL: Guns
Weekend Edition
January 13, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Gregory Elich
Did the Russians Really Hack the DNC?
Jeffrey St. Clair
The President Who Wasn’t There: Barack Obama’s Legacy of Impotence
Anthony DiMaggio
Ethics Fiasco: Trump, Divestment and the Perversion of Executive Politics
Joshua Frank
Farewell Obummer, Hello Golden Showers
Paul Street
Hit the Road, Barack: Some Farewell Reflections
Vijay Prashad
After Aleppo: the State of Syria
John Wight
Russia Must be Destroyed: John McCain and the Case of the Dodgy Dossier
Rob Urie
Meet the Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
The Russian Dossier Reminds Me of the Row Over Saddam’s WMDs
Eric Sommer
U.S.-China War: a Danger Hidden from the American People
Andrew Levine
Are Democrats Still the Lesser Evil?
Linda Pentz Gunter
What’s Really Behind the Indian Point Nuclear Deal?
Robert Fantina
Trucks, ‘Terror’ and Israel
Richard Moser
Universal Values are Revolutionary Values
Russell Mokhiber
Build the Bagdikian Wall: “Sponsored News” at the Washington Post
Yoav Litvin
Establishment Narcissism – The Democrats’ Game of Thrones
David Rosen
Return of the Repressed: Trump & the Revival of the Culture Wars
Robert Koehler
War Consciousness and the F-35
Rev. William Alberts
The New Smell of McCarthyism Demands Faith Leaders Speak Truth to Power
John Laforge
Federal Regulator Halts Move to Toughen Radiation Exposure Limits
Norman Pollack
Farewell Address: Nazification of Hope
David Swanson
Imagine the Confirmation Hearing for Secretary of Peace
CJ Hopkins
Why Ridiculous Official Propaganda Still Works
Ron Jacobs
Striking in Reagan Time
Missy Comley Beattie
The Streep
Graham Peebles
Climate Change: The Potential Impacts of Collective Inaction
Uri Avnery
Confessions of a Megalomaniac
Kenneth Worles
Black Without a Home: King’s Dream Still Deferred
Geoff Dutton
The Russian Patsy
Jill Richardson
The Coming War on Regulations
Jeremy Brecher
Resisting the Trump Agenda is Social Self-Defense
Peter Lee
Is Obama Behind the Hit on Trump?
Christopher Brauchli
Why Did Congress Do It? Because They Can
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail