Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! CounterPunch is entirely supported by our readers. Your donations pay for our small staff, tiny office, writers, designers, techies, bandwidth and servers. We don’t owe anything to advertisers, foundations, one-percenters or political parties. You are our only safety net. Please make a tax-deductible donation today.
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:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 29, 2016
Robert Fisk
The Butcher of Qana: Shimon Peres Was No Peacemaker
James Rose
Politics in the Echo Chamber: How Trump Becomes President
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Vice Grip on the Presidential Debates
Daniel Kato
Rethinking the Race over Race: What Clinton Should do Now About ‘Super-Predators’
Peter Certo
Clinton’s Awkward Stumbles on Trade
Fran Shor
Demonizing the Green Party Vote
Rev. William Alberts
Trump’s Road Rage to the White House
Luke O'Brien
Because We Couldn’t Have Sanders, You’ll Get Trump
Michael J. Sainato
How the Payday Loan Industry is Obstructing Reform
Robert Fantina
You Can’t Have War Without Racism
Gregory Barrett
Bad Theater at the United Nations (Starring Kerry, Power, and Obama
James A Haught
The Long, Long Journey to Female Equality
Thomas Knapp
US Military Aid: Thai-ed to Torture
Jack Smith
Must They be Enemies? Russia, Putin and the US
Gilbert Mercier
Clinton vs Trump: Lesser of Two Evils or the Devil You Know
Tom H. Hastings
Manifesting the Worst Old Norms
George Ella Lyon
This Just in From Rancho Politico
September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Robert Fisk
Cliché and Banality at the Debates: Trump and Clinton on the Middle East
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
Gareth Porter
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]