Many black men seem to be caught in a vicious cycle of poverty and crime, and there seems to be few options of breaking the cycle even when there are sustained and honorable attempts to do so.
Recently the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed lawsuits against discount retailer Dollar General Corp. and a BMW manufacturing plant in South Carolina for their use of criminal background checks to screen out job applicants or fire employees.
While it appears that they were well within their rights to do so, it certainly raises a more long- term question of how many blacks, particularly black men, will ever be able to escape a life of poverty, which often includes a revolving door of crime.
According to a recent article in the Associated Press, BMW, in using criminal background checks, fired a number of employees mostly black and some of whom had worked with the company for more than a decade. The nature, gravity or age of the criminal offense was disregarded in the termination decisions. Relevancy of the offense to the type of work performed also did not matter.
As for Dollar General, one employee had been offered a job, and despite disclosing that she had been arrested for having a controlled substance 6 years prior, the job offer was later revoked when it was “discovered” that Dollar General’s policy was not to hire anyone with such a conviction within the last 10 years. In another instance, an employee was fired even though she was able to prove that an alleged felony conviction was a mistake made by the system.
The lawsuits are being filed as a result of both companies ignoring the revised guidelines issued last year by the EEOC, which warn employers against the use of overly broad criminal checks that could limit job opportunities for people with past convictions. The goal of the new guidelines is to reduce barriers to employment for people with past criminal records, who have paid their dues and are now leading responsible lives.
What is even better is that gainful employment can begin to break the cycle of poverty and the pattern of crime that often goes along with it.
The two lawsuits are the first since EEOC issues the new guidelines last year. The lawsuits were filed when all efforts to reach an agreement involving reinstatement and restitution failed.
The issue is certainly not a simple one. The new guidelines are urging employers to give job applicants who may have had brushes with the law a chance to explain any past criminal misconduct before they are rejected as applicants or fired arbitrarily after years of a good work record.
Employers see the checks as a way to keep, what could be undesirable or perceived problematic workers, out of their workforce.
When you consider the disproportionate number of young black men who are born in poverty, who grow up surrounded by crime and very little equal access to a quality education or other opportunities, and who get caught up in the criminal justice system often for wrong or unfair convictions, how will their plight ever improve?
If employers continue to close the doors or dismiss good working employees at will, how will this vicious cycle of poverty and crime ever be broken?
It will take BMW, General Dollar and many other businesses across America to rethink their hiring and firing practices.