Poll: Illinois Small Businesses Support Criminal Justice Reforms to Address Workforce Challenges

For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Latest poll highlights support for Clean Slate policies to expand Illinois’s small business candidate pool

Chicago, Illinois — Today, Small Business Majority released state-specific poll data that shows bipartisan support for criminal justice reforms at the state and federal levels, which includes Clean Slate policies that will address persistent workforce challenges.

In Illinois, an estimated 3 million state residents have criminal records and 1.5 million have conviction records. People with arrest or conviction records face structural barriers that could impede eligibility for employment and entrepreneurship. The poll reveals that Illinois small business owners support (73%) state legislation that would help candidates overcome these barriers by allowing individuals to petition federal courts to seal or expunge certain records. 

More specifically, 85% of small business owners agree that Clean Slate policies, such as the campaign supported through Clean Slate Illinois, will open a pool of job applicants and increase employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for the estimated 920,000 Illinoisans who are eligible for record relief. Although a broad range of misdemeanor and felony convictions can be sealed following a waiting period, the current system creates obstacles for a ready-made workforce of justice-impacted individuals.

"An arrest or conviction record should not prevent Illinoisans from getting employment or starting their own business," said Charmaine Rickette, Owner of Uncle Remus Saucy Fried Chicken in Chicago. "Every person has a dream and should be allowed to pursue their dreams without being repeatedly penalized for a past mistake. I'm proud to support more robust Clean Slate laws in Illinois and be a part of efforts to build confidence for individuals taking steps to do better." 

Despite ongoing challenges related to the pandemic, 85% of small business owners in Illinois remain optimistic about their business conditions and 66% will likely add employees over the next several months. This climate has opened the doors for more hiring opportunities; however, the poll also revealed that 53% of small businesses need help finding quality candidates. Illinois small business owners share support for proposed changes that will help address ongoing workforce challenges and expand the candidate pool such as the following:  

  • 85% support reforms that allow people with old convictions fairer access to occupational licenses.
  • 83% 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. 
  • 66% support federal legislation prohibiting private-sector employers from asking jobseekers about their criminal background

"Our poll reveals that Illinois small business owners want to utilize a ready workforce that includes justice-impacted people, but the current criminal justice system has created obstacles to hiring staff," said Tasha Brown, Midwest Director, Small Business Majority. "Enacting policies that help small businesses reach a larger pool of candidates only makes sense. Illinois could gain billions of dollars in aggregated earnings by addressing the needs of the people waiting in the second chance gap. Record relief expands access to employment and gives justice-impacted people the opportunity to contribute to their communities and the state's economy."

This legislative session, Illinois policymakers can improve hiring chances for justice-impacted individuals by supporting policies allowing employers to tap into an underutilized workforce. 

This opinion poll, conducted by Chesapeake Beach Consulting for Small Business Majority, reflects the opinions of 100 small business owners from Illinois. The poll, conducted from September 13 through September 20, has a margin of error of +/-10% at a 95% confidence interval. Poll respondents identified with the following political parties: 39% Democrat, 24% Republican and 29% Independent. Read the full report at: https://smallbusinessmajority.org/sites/default/files/research-reports/2023-IL-Criminal-Justice-Poll-Report.pdf 


About Small Business Majority

Small Business Majority is a national small business organization that empowers America's diverse entrepreneurs to build a thriving and equitable economy. We engage our network of more than 85,000 small businesses and 1,500 business and community organizations to deliver resources to entrepreneurs and advocate for public policy solutions that promote inclusive small business growth. Our work is bolstered by extensive research and deep connections with the small business community that enable us to educate stakeholders about key issues impacting America’s entrepreneurs, with a special focus on the smallest businesses and those facing systemic inequities. Learn more about us on our website and follow us on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

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