Michigan Career Updates

Michigan's Job Market: The Challenge of Finding Employment with a Criminal Record

Despite a significant number of open jobs in Michigan, individuals with a criminal record often face considerable hurdles in securing employment. This challenge persists even as initiatives and reforms are implemented to ease their reentry into the workforce.

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In Michigan, the "Ban the Box" movement, which started in 1998 in Hawaii and has since spread nationwide, aims to reduce the initial barriers faced by individuals with criminal records when seeking employment. This movement requires employers to remove questions about criminal history from job applications, allowing candidates to be assessed on their qualifications first before their criminal history is considered. 

However, the dilemma for HR and hiring managers is to balance between giving these applicants a chance and managing potential liabilities​ (SHRM)​. Recent policy reforms in Michigan have also focused on criminal justice, including efforts to support indigent defense and to limit prison sentences for crimes committed in youth. These initiatives are indicative of a broader shift towards more rehabilitative and inclusive approaches within the criminal justice system​ (MICEMI)​. 

 On a national level, the impact of criminal records on workforce participation is significant. With millions of jobs open in the U.S. and a labor force participation rate still recovering post-pandemic, the exclusion of individuals with criminal records exacerbates the worker shortage crisis. The United States has the highest incarceration rate globally, and a significant proportion of the population has a criminal record, creating barriers to employment that extend far beyond prison walls. Studies have shown that stable employment is crucial for reducing recidivism and benefiting society. 

However, individuals with criminal records often face extreme rates of unemployment, further marginalizing this demographic​ (U.S. Chamber of Commerce)​. In Michigan, the Clean Slate legislation, enacted in 2020, has sought to mitigate some of these challenges. 

It includes a set of bills that change the rules and procedures for having convictions set aside, including creating processes for automatic expungement for certain convictions. This law aims to ease the burden on individuals with past convictions, helping them to reintegrate into society and the workforce more effectively​ (Michigan.gov)​. 

 The landscape in Michigan reflects a broader national conversation on how best to integrate individuals with criminal records back into society and the workforce, recognizing the benefits of doing so for both individuals and the wider economy.

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