Back to Work: Ending Job Discrimination Based on Criminal Record


Lead: TakeAction Minnesota Education Fund

Key Partners: Minnesota Department of Health, Rebuild Resources, Twin Cities RISE, Council on Crime and Justice, and 180 Degrees, Inc.  

Project Location: St. Paul, Minnesota – Statewide

Contact: Justin Terrell Justice 4 All Program Manager, TakeAction Minnesota, or (612) 432-2141

Liz Doyle, Associate Director, TakeAction Minnesota, or (651) 379-0745

Project Description:

Employment and income are among the social and economic factors that impact both individual and community health. Studies have linked unemployment to shortened lifespan, increased mental health problems, and other health issues. Meanwhile, neighborhoods with high rates of unemployment face housing foreclosures, crime, drug and alcohol abuse, and additional contributors to ill health. These factors, along with poverty, stress, and stigma, drain a community’s social capital—the resources of a community that make it healthy and whole. 

The TakeAction Minnesota Education Fund, an organization committed to social, racial, and economic justice, aims to create healthier communities in Minnesota by closing the state’s high racial jobs gap—the disparity in employment between whites and minority groups. The Twin Cities, for example, has the single widest racial jobs gap of any metropolitan region in the nation, with African-Americans three times more likely to be unemployed than whites, regardless of income and education. Under the grant, the Fund and its partners address one of the most significant contributors to employment disparities—job discrimination based on criminal conviction. Research shows that contact with the penal system lowers employment opportunities and depresses wages. About half of Minnesota’s former offenders are unemployed. The rate is higher for ex-offenders of color, who disproportionately make up the prison population. Often, incarceration begins with childhood experiences of poverty, racism, and inadequate education. Clearing a path toward employment for those with a record is critical for the health of these individuals and their communities. 

The project aims to create new statewide fair hiring standards for private businesses, such as persuading prospective employers to consider criminal records only when they directly relate to the position rather than asking questions on applications that promote blanket rejections. The Fund and its partners will first seek to influence private employers to adopt these standards, focusing particularly on Minnesota’s larger employers. In 2013, the Minnesota legislature passed the “ban the box” legislation supported by TakeAction MN and its partners. The bill was signed into law by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton in May 2013, making Minnesota the third state in the nation to adopt “ban the box” in both the public and private sectors.  Under the new law, an employer will no longer be allowed to include a check box about criminal background on the initial employment application. 

Matching funds for this grant will be provided by the F. R. Bigelow Foundation and the St. Paul Foundation.

Why this work is important:

  • Research shows that contact with the penal system lowers employment opportunities and depresses wages.

  • Neighborhoods with high rates of unemployment face greater housing foreclosures, higher crime, more drug and alcohol abuse, and additional contributors to poor health.

  • Poverty, stress, and stigma drain a community’s social capital and the resources of a community that make it healthy and whole.

Relevant Information from the 2014 County Health Rankings:

  • In Minnesota’s highest ranked county, Carver County, the unemployment rate is just over 5 percent. In the lowest ranked County, Mahnomen County, the unemployment rate is 7 percent; and in Hennepin County, home of major urban center Minneapolis, the unemployment rate is just over 5 percent. The state unemployment rate is nearly 6 percent.

  • In top ranked Carver County, 5 percent of children live in poverty. In Mahnomen County, over a third of county children live in poverty, double the state percentage of children living in poverty (15%). In Hennepin County, 17 percent of children are living in poverty. 

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