Georgia small businesses support expanding occupational licensing for justice-impacted individuals

Small Business Majority
Thursday, March 7, 2024


Small businesses are the foundation of Georgia’s economy: The state’s 1.2 million small businesses comprise 99% of all businesses in the state, and they employ 42% of the state’s private-sector workforce.1 Despite their outsized impact on the economy, small businesses in Georgia continue to struggle to hire and retain a ready workforce, limiting their stability and growth. There is a parallel problem impacting the state’s labor pool: More than 4 million Georgians have a criminal record, which impedes their ability to earn a living wage or start a new business.2 Even a minor criminal record can create a wall of lifelong barriers that create obstacles to gainful employment.

As a result of being excluded from the labor force, individuals impacted by the justice system are 45% more likely to start their own business and create their own job, highlighting the entrepreneurial nature of those seeking to move past their criminal record.3 However, justice-impacted individuals face even more obstacles in accessing the capital, resources and professional licenses needed to get their enterprises off the ground.

Small Business Majority’s new poll of Georgia small business owners reveals strong support for legislative solutions that would remove barriers for justice-impacted individuals by making reforms to occupational licensing and debt-based driver’s license suspensions. These politically diverse, and predominantly Republican-leaning, small business owners believe these measures would enable employers to tap into an underutilized workforce and open up opportunities for entrepreneurship.

Key findings

  • Georgia small businesses are hiring, but they are struggling to find workers. More than half of Georgia small businesses (53%) say they are likely to hire in the next six months. Nearly 6 in 10 (59%) say the top challenge they face when hiring new employees is finding quality candidates.
  • Many small business owners (43%) say their business requires occupational or professional licensing to own or work for the business.
  • Small business owners support policy solutions to make it easier for justice-impacted individuals to access occupational or professional licensing. A vast 86% of small business owners in Georgia say they would support reforms that would allow people with criminal records fairer access to occupational licenses. Nearly 9 in 10 (88%) say state licensing boards should consider the nature of the offense when deciding whether to deny a license, rather denying a license broadly for any felony conviction.
  • Small business owners say driver’s license suspensions for unpaid fines and fees negatively impact employers’ ability to hire employees that can reliably attend work, with 72% of business owners in agreement. They strongly agree that access to transportation is vital to our nation’s workforce (91% total agree/76% strongly agree).
  • Small business owners favor proposals to end debt-based driver's license suspensions for unpaid court fines and fees (67% support), among a number of additional solutions to ensure more equitable access to driver’s licenses.


1 “Georgia Small Business Profile 2023”. US Small Business Administration.
2  “Georgia forfeits essential workers because of outdated licensing law.” 2023. Georgia Justice Project.
3 “Entrepreneurship as a Response to Labor Market Discrimination for Formerly Incarcerated People.” 2020. Hwang, Kylie & Phillips, Damon.