Small business owners support criminal justice reforms to address persistent workforce challenges
Small businesses are still struggling to hire and retain a ready workforce, persistent challenges in the wake of the pandemic. A parallel problem for the nation’s labor market cannot be ignored: more than 70 million Americans have a criminal record, reducing their opportunities to contribute to society and earn a living wage. Even a minor criminal record can create a wall of lifelong barriers that prevent gainful employment.
What’s more, criminal records also further widen the racial wealth gap: While only 13.6% of the population is Black, 28% of all arrests and 36% of all felony convictions are imposed on Black people. Yet employers who hire justice-impacted workers report that their quality of work and contributions are on par with or better than other employees, and turnover rates are notably lower. Small businesses employ nearly half (46.4%) of the private workforce, opening a powerful role for small employers to play in addressing the labor shortage and reducing the harms of mass incarceration.
A new six-state poll from Small Business Majority reveals strong support for criminal justice reforms aimed at removing barriers to employment or entrepreneurship opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals. Alongside organizations such as the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice and in partnership with coalitions like the Workforce and Justice Alliance, Small Business Majority is building awareness about how meaningful legislative changes—from Clean Slate policies that seal or expunge qualifying criminal records from background checks to occupational licensing reforms—will help address ongoing workforce challenges and foster a more inclusive economy.
- Small business owners agree that Clean Slate policies will help boost labor recruitment. A robust 84% of respondents agree that Clean Slate policies will open up a pool of job applicants that deserve a second chance, which will benefit small businesses in their efforts to hire and recruit employees. Only 16% of respondents report that they are not open to hiring individuals with a criminal record, regardless of Clean Slate policies. More than half (58%) of poll respondents are familiar with Clean Slate policies.
- Small business owners agree that families, communities, and the economy are impacted by the criminal justice system.
- 83% of respondents say that one way to expand the productivity and diversity of our nation’s workforce is by making it easier for employers to recruit from underused candidate pools.
- 79% of respondents agree that removing barriers to employment for people with criminal records will save tax dollars by reducing recidivism and the need for long term government assistance.
- 71% of respondents agree the U.S. criminal justice system disproportionately impacts people of color, leading to employment barriers and economic mobility.
- Small businesses support policies that remove barriers to obtaining driver’s and professional licenses. More than 7 in 10 (72%) respondents support ending debt-based driver license suspensions for unpaid fines and fees. Additionally, a vast majority (79%) would support reforms that would allow people with old convictions fairer access to occupational licenses.
- Small business owners are planning to hire in the next six months. More than 8 in 10 small business owners (83%) are optimistic about their business prospects, and 71% of respondents say they are likely to hire in the next six months. More than half (63%) of respondents say it’s hard to find quality candidates, while 50% say that jobseekers are expecting higher wages.
- Small businesses are attracting workers by increasing pay and benefits. Half of small business owners are increasing employee wages, while 40% are offering additional benefits. Small employers are also being more flexible in their hiring and recruitment practices, with the poll revealing that 35% of respondents are creating more part-time positions, about a quarter (23%) are hiring younger candidates, and 21% are hiring within their local community.
- Small business owners are supportive of policies that improve hiring chances for justice-impacted individuals. Small business owners are supportive of several federal and state criminal justice reform policies:
- Six in 10 business owners support federal legislation that would prohibit private-sector employers from asking jobseekers about their criminal background.
- More than three quarters support legislation that would allow individuals to petition federal courts to seal or expunge certain records.