Clean Slate reforms as a solution to workforce challenges

Small Business Majority
Monday, May 1, 2023

We hear daily from small business owners in our network that they are struggling to attract and retain talented employees in this tight labor market. Meanwhile more than 70 million Americans have a criminal record, which limits their opportunities to earn a living wage, start a new business and contribute to society. Even a minor criminal record can create a wall of lifelong barriers that prevent gainful employment. However, expanding criminal record expungement and opening access to occupational licensing are solutions that can address labor shortages and reduce recidivism. 

Small businesses employ nearly half of the private workforce and create the majority of new jobs. Their views on criminal justice reforms are critical to ensuring policymakers enact measures that will benefit both small employers and justice-impacted individuals who are eager to find employment. 

In particular, Clean Slate policies have the potential to address the needs of employers and individuals who are struggling to seek meaningful employment. Clean Slate is a policy model that automatically seals qualifying criminal records, if a person doesn’t reoffend for a particular period of time. This results in the removal of certain criminal records from an individual’s background check, which provides justice-impacted individuals with more opportunities to seek employment, earn a living wage and seek entrepreneurial endeavors. Clean Slate has many implications on the small business community, which is why it’s critical that policymakers understand their views on this issue. 

To support this effort, Small Business Majority is conducting a research project to better understand small business owners’ perspectives about criminal justice reforms that can help returning citizens access employment and entrepreneurship opportunities. As part of that, Chesapeake Beach Consulting conducted two focus group discussions with small business owners on behalf of Small Business Majority. This report reveals a demonstrated need for further education and engagement around Clean Slate and criminal justice reforms, and how small businesses and the communities they serve may benefit from these policies.

Key findings

  • While small business owners indicated that they were optimistic about their business prospects and business was starting to pick back up after the pandemic, hiring and retaining staff were the top challenges faced by nearly all participants in both focus groups.
  • Small businesses are generally supportive of Clean Slate policies, but they want detailed information about existing programs and the proposed policies to make more informed decisions that may impact their businesses and communities. Many entrepreneurs conduct background checks to get a better picture of job candidates’ history.
  • Most small business owners have general liability and safety concerns. However, most of their concerns are related to external factors and not the conduct of their employees.
  • Many small business owners believe that Clean Slate policies may be more applicable to certain industries, such as construction, food service and retail. Other industries that are strictly regulated, such as the financial sector, would be less able to benefit.
  • When discussing Clean Slate laws and how they differ across states, the focus group did not explore the complexities of Clean Slate laws among the type of small businesses.