With Georgia’s unemployment rate at 9.2, more than a percentage point than the national average, many skilled workers are still looking for jobs, even basic labor. For people coming out of the justice system, getting a job is key to starting a new life. But having a felony on your record makes that opportunity even harder.
A recent job fair focused on people like 52-year old Terry Harris, who’s trying to break that cycle.
Harris admits making mistakes in life but is having a hard time getting back on his feet. “I’ve had a hard time getting a job. I need a job.” Because he has a felony behind his name, he’s not been able to find a job. “They say I’ll call you, bu I never get no calls. So I’ve been off and on doing handy work, but no benefits in that. And I have to take care of my family. And I can’t get a job.”
Chanta Carr says she’s also ready to start a new life. She’s 34 and spent six months in prison. Before that, she worked at a fast food restaurant downtown. She’s been out a year and has tried on and off to get a job, and work on her GED. ”For me it’s been kind of hard and there haven’t been a whole lot of jobs out there. And the ones I am able to get.. people look at you with a background. It’s been pretty hard but I haven’t given up because I have three kids at home and I have to do for them.”
Harris and Carr were some of the 300 men and women who came to a job fair Thursday for ex-offenders, held at the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency. Blanchard Cook, a re-entry specialist with the agency, says this was the first comprehensive
opportunity to address what he called, “the employment piece, collectively as one comprehensively job fair.”
He says we need find balance by expanding opportunities for people who’ve had criminal backgrounds or justice system contact.
“What we have now is increasing percentages of our population who’ve had criminal justice system contact and who are being effectively locked out of any meaningful employment opportunities. “
After waiting for their number to be called, applicants were able to meet with actual recruiters from less than a dozen companies, set up at tables in the cafeteria.
Calvin Kid, a job recruiter with ‘Mark the Movers’ was ready to hire. He said they’ve hired ex-convicts before who proved to be good workers. “We thought this would be a good place to recruit a lot of people and we’re hoping to get a lot of prospects. No experience necessary. They get experience with the guy who got experience”
Other companies there were Peach Movers, Maxway, Target, Next step staffing , A BBQ and Seafood restaurant, and Youth Connections Incorporated King’s Manor Shelter, an emergency shelter that gives housing and services to men aged 10-17.
Bradford Red said they were looking to hire a direct care staff to be positive roll models. He said he’d already met
two people he was interested in, “because of the background of the youth we serve that come in, they can kind of relate to what the children are going through.” And, he says, ” they can see you can turn your life around. That’s what we’re looking for a few people along that line you know because the kids won’t listen to a person with a squeaky clean background anyway.”
This was the kind of positive attitude 22-year old King Asante may have been looking for. He was a college student before being incarcerated for three months, for buying a stolen laptop. He can’t afford to go back to school without a job.. He says with a background like his, having a felony at 22 makes it very difficult to try to get a second chance. “I think they need to do more and even reach out to young men like me, my age, there’s a lot of grown men here, but people my age, there’s a lot of young men like me , early 20’s who really need a chance, but all the doors are shut.”
The City of Atlanta Workforce Development Agency hopes to hold more events like this in the future.