I have been unemployed since 2008, despite my constant efforts to find a job. This Tuesday, the D.C Council finally passed a bill that will make it easier for DC residents like me to get hired. Even before this bill was passed, city contractors were supposed to employ D.C. residents for at least 51% of their new hiring on city contracts. However, according to a report by the D.C. Employment Justice Center and other local organizations, the old “First Source” law was weak and not well enforced and not enough was done to connect the unemployed with jobs on city contracts. The new law, which passed its first vote yesterday, will address this problem by making city contractors more accountable for hitting the hiring targets. It will also create a workforce intermediary to connect workers with jobs, following in the footsteps of San Francisco’s City Build program and Boston’s Neighborhood Jobs Trust to create career pathways for unemployed D.C. residents.
One of the most important parts of the bill for me personally is the help it gives to employers who hire people who have been unemployed for a long time or who face special obstacles in finding a job. People like me.
You see, I have a criminal record. At first, I did not understand why I could not get work. When I finally got to see a copy of my decades old criminal record, I finally understood why no one would hire me. Looking at the record, I thought to myself, “I wouldn’t hire me.”
As a kid, I was attracted to the fast life. I was fascinated by the young guys driving Cadillacs, going to dances with alligator shoes, getting girls and so as an adolescent, I went wild. I didn’t have to go that route. I had good parents. I had a job. I wouldn’t tell my friends I had a job, but I would go out at night and then go to work the next morning. My lifestyle caught up with me when I was arrested in 1973. I was innocent of the particular crime charged, but at the time I was involved in drugs and petty crime. I served three and a half years in prison and six and a half on parole.
My life really changed while I was incarcerated. I got my GED, took college classes and eventually got married. I have been a law-abiding citizen now for more than 20 years, but my conviction is a red flag to any potential employer. They write me off before I have a chance to get my foot in the door. The truth is I spent three and half years in prison, but I am really serving a life sentence.
All throughout our country, there are millions of people who have paid their debt to society and who want to work, but very few employers are willing to hire us. At the age of 60, I have been through a diverse range of jobs and have a long list of qualifications that reflect this: commercial driver, telecommunications work, foreman and fleet manager at a tire company, and construction worker for the Department of Transportation. Yet I have been out of work for three years. I have applied for over 43 jobs and have been turned down for all of them. Right now, my only income comes from Social Security. It feels degrading to me because I am used to supporting myself. Beyond that, even with Social Security, I cannot even meet my basic needs.
I refuse to give up though. I am in the process of finishing my Associates Degree at Catholic University to become a certified addiction counselor. I want to help people avoid taking the route in life that I have. It is my lifelong dream to help educate and counsel ex-offenders so that they too can be solid citizens.
This First Source bill is a significant way to improve the lives of people who, like me, wish to be productive and responsible members of society, yet have their hopes constantly squashed by the lack of good jobs and by discriminatory hiring practices. This law gives me hope.
About the Author: Calvin Moore is a member of Workers Advocating for Greater Equality (“WAGE”), a project of the D.C. Employment Justice Center (www.dcejc.org).