Back in 2012, facing extreme reluctance from employers, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (“EEOC”) published guidance on whether and when to hire workers with criminal backgrounds who had done their time and were, hopefully, ready to be productive citizens and workers.
But employer reluctance to consider hiring ex-cons has waned in the past seven years as the economy has improved, the population has continued to age, and at least in Illinois, the population size has fallen due to people leaving for faster-growing states and fewer immigrants coming into the state. Meantime, more than 27,000 people got out of state prisons and more than 50,000 were released from Cook County Jail in 2018, and the National Employment Law Project estimates that 42 percent of Illinoisans have either criminal records or at least histories of arrest, which can include not only those found not guilty but those never formally charged in the first place.
It’s become somewhat easier for ex-cons (“the formerly incarcerated”) since the state legislature in 2014 prevented employers from asking on applications or early in the process about criminal history, making Illinois one of 23 states to take this step; private companies like Target had already done so. Then in 2016 the state changed licensing laws to make more than 100 occupations more accessible to those with criminal records, including areas like healthcare, accounting and real estate, while expanding the types of convictions that can be sealed—and therefore invisible.