Arrest records in hiring process lead to marginalization, poor mental health

April 3, 2013

Englewood residents who are repeatedly denied jobs because of an arrest record experience mental health problems, according to a new report.

The Chicago-based Adler School of Professional Psychology looked at whether updates to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission could increase employment in Englewood — a poor, black neighborhood where one of the city’s highest unemployment and arrest rates are coupled with dwindling mental health services.

Last year the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission updated its policy that prohibits employers from using arrest records in the hiring process. Adler researchers began conducting the study while the EEOC was considering revisions. They interviewed 250 Englewood residents, asking them about life satisfaction, use of the informal economy and discrimination. The school’s findings suggest that employment rejection created symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress.

“In communities like Englewood where there’s a large number of people who are experiencing this, it had impacts community wide. So we found that things like psychological sense of community and cohesion were undermined as well,” said Lynn Todman, the study’s lead author and director of Adler’s Institute on Social Exclusion.

During interviews, respondents said Englewood residents typically seek low-skill retail jobs. Todman said employers sometimes found arrest records without convictions while performing background checks of applicants. And subsequently they weren’t hired.

“Our findings suggested that if the EEOC tightens its guidelines and employers follow those guidelines, that we would see reduction in depressive symptoms, anxiety and then some of the indicators of collective well being in the neighborhood would improve,” Todman said.

Despite the EEOC edict that says employers can’t use arrest records in hiring, enforcement is tricky. Advocates say there’s no money for monitoring.

Todman said the Adler report was also done to mobilize Englewood residents by letting them know they can report discrimination to the EEOC and organize to lobby for money. The neighborhood’s unemployment rate stands at 25 percent, while 42 percent of residents live in poverty, according to city data.

Anthony Lowery is director of policy and advocacy for the Safer Foundation, a nonprofit that helps people with criminal records get into the workforce.

“If you just look at the number of people who are denied opportunity, they lack hope in a community,” Lowery said. “These are the same communities that have escalation of violence because when a person sees there’s no hope, opportunity for legal employment, then they provide for themselves and their families through illegal means.” 

 

Natalie Moore is WBEZ’s South Side Bureau reporter. Follow her @natalieymoore.