The U.S. Census Bureau will provide temporary employment for thousands of Americans this year, but if one Congressman gets his way, people with criminal convictions need not apply.
We’ve reported here in recent weeks about the devastating effect the census has on poor communities and inner cities -- for example, by counting prisoners where they’re incarcerated rather than where they’re from. The census also misses millions of hard-to-count, usually poor individuals, which means struggling neighborhoods are denied their fair share of federal and state resources.
What’s more, the census offers thousands of good temporary jobs -- but most don't go to people with records. The Washington Post reports that thousands of former prisoners in D.C. and beyond are taking tests to be census takers or clerks. But while census rules on criminal records are vague, it’s clear that most with felony charges on their record won’t get a callback.
Experts in post-release parole and employment tell the Post that background checks would be sufficient to weed out dangerous criminals from the census, while still allowing those with old non-violent convictions a chance at the job. But Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz (above left) doesn’t see it that way. He introduced a bill in January that would prohibit anyone charged with or convicted of a crime from serving as a census taker. Chaffetz got fired up about this issue after an error in background checks allowed people with serious criminal records to be hired last year. Now, though, his overreaction could mean a missed opportunity for good post-release jobs.
"I don't want a convicted felon going to knock on Grandma's door," Chaffetz said. "With unemployment as high as it is, there are plenty of people who don't have criminal backgrounds who we can better trust to gather this personal, sensitive information."
That’s the spirit, Chaffey. Think about it. Every year, we release 700,000 people from prison. Denying them opportunities is a surefire way to make sure they get locked up again (incidentally, on taxpayers like Grandma's dime).
Send Chaffetz an email today urging him to withdraw his bill and support second chances for people convicted of non-violent crimes, or people who have proven over a period of years that they've changed. Bills like this send the wrong message, so it's on us to send Chaffetz the right one.
Herbert Wood, a 41-year-old man who spent eight years in prison for running a chop shop, described to the Post his difficulties in seeking a second chance.
"I fill out a lot of applications," Wood said. "I go to all the job sites. When I tell them I've got a record, I can see the change in their facial expressions. I go in with hope, and I lose it."
The census does enough damage to inner-city communities without also denying job opportunities to the formerly incarcerated in a disasterous economy. Take action today: tell Chaffetz why his bill is a mistake.