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Now that the election is over (well, almost over), new economic data coming in gives us better insight into what was happening last month when politicians were campaigning full steam.
In October, consumer prices were up 7.7% nationwide from a year ago, according to the latest inflation report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Denver-area data, which is used to gauge Colorado’s rate, won’t be out until December. But an analysis by WalletHub has Denver’s inflation trending to be “Rising the Least” out of 22 metro areas tracked by the BLS. There’s a reason for this. But more on that in a bit.
Colorado is still showing about two job openings for every unemployed worker. And one startup that’s trying to help connect employers to job seekers is in Denver. But Honest Jobs is promoting a different kind of worker that employers may not have considered: the formerly incarcerated.
After Harley Blakeman graduated from Ohio State University in 2017, he applied to nearly 100 jobs he felt qualified for. He was rejected by them all. It probably was because years earlier, as a homeless teenager, he did drugs and spent time in prison on drug and theft charges.
No one wanted to hire an ex-felon.
So, in 2018, he started Honest Jobs as a job site that matches workers with a past to employers who need their help. And boy, did he hit an untapped market. The company now works with more than 1,000 employers from Amazon and Koch Industries to Nestle and Wayfair. On any given day, there are 60,000 job openings and 37,000 job seekers. A year ago, there were 10,000 job seekers and 400 employers. The company moved to Denver last year at the request of its Boulder-based investors, which include Caruso Ventures and Matchstick Ventures. It’s growing as it tries to help solve the issue of “returning citizens” and keeping them out of jail.
“We are the largest job board specifically focused on felony-friendly employment opportunities,” said Melissa Dickerson, the company’s chief of staff who had nearly given up on finding a job herself after her own felony conviction. “All of the employers come to us and sign up and post their jobs directly on our site with the express understanding that every candidate they get from our site is going to have some kind of justice involvement.”
Dickerson handles operations at Honest Jobs’ headquarters in RiNo (Blakeman is in Ohio). She said part of the uniqueness of its job board is that it helps applicants see openings from employers who are OK with a particular background.
In other words, someone with a DUI conviction wouldn’t see openings for drivers. Those with a theft charge may not see jobs that handle cash. And people with fraud convictions would not be recommended for jobs that deal with sensitive data. Honest Jobs doesn’t do background checks — that’s up to the employer. Applicants self-disclose their past.
“Even though all the employers who post their jobs on our site are willing to consider people with criminal records, there are also employers and businesses who are concerned about negligent-hiring lawsuits,” Dickerson said. “They will consider everybody on a case-by-case basis, but in many situations, they will have to look closely at the duties of the job the person is applying for compared to that person’s type of conviction. And if there’s a conflict there, that could potentially put the employer at risk for negligent hiring.”
The most common types of openings at Honest Jobs are for warehouse workers, maintenance technicians, delivery drivers, restaurant work, customer service and mechanics. She says she’s seen “up to VP level positions.” On Friday, the site had an opening for a senior backend engineer at data-analytics firm AirDNA and a senior product marketing position at background-checking site Checkr, a company that does background checks. Both positions start at more than $140,000 a year. But most jobs are more entry or mid-level roles.
“The majority of the jobs we have on our site do tend to be in things like manufacturing and warehousing because those are the industries that are typically the most felony friendly and can offer the best wages that are liveable and enable people to provide for their families,” she said. “We have jobs in tech, we have jobs in hospitality, we have professional-level positions, skilled trades. It really runs the gamut and because we are nationwide, we do have jobs in every state.”
Since its inception, the company has raised more than $2.9 million in funding, including from Caruso Ventures, the family investment firm of Dan Caruso, who cofounded Zayo Group and Level 3 Communications.
“The most effective solution for reducing recidivism, and the incarcerated population in general, is by employing the formerly incarcerated,” Caruso said in an email. “Employers need more hard-working employees. Honest Jobs matches up Employers with this untapped and loyal talent pool.”
About 650,000 people are released from state or federal prison each year, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Studies show that two-thirds are likely to be rearrested within three years because they return to society at a disadvantage. They have no money, few job opportunities and limited housing. According to an analysis by Prison Policy, the unemployment rate for the formerly incarcerated is 27%, or higher than the nation’s rate has ever been.
The labor shortage, including here in Colorado where there are roughly two job openings for every unemployed worker, has made hiring applicants with a felony background something that even the U.S. Chamber encourages. In a report last year, the chamber cited studies that made a compelling business case: Excluding formerly incarcerated job seekers reduced the nation’s gross domestic product by $78 million to $87 billion; hires are more loyal, which reduces turnover; and having a job reduces the recidivism rate.
Honest Jobs recently expanded its service to help people who are still in prison. Working with ViaPath Technologies in Virginia, Honest Jobs’ job board can now be viewed by the incarcerated to help them land a job as they prepare to leave, said Tony Lowden, ViaPath’s vice president of reintegration and community engagement.
“Before the Honest Jobs platform, you had to work with your probation officer and maybe, maybe they would have a job waiting for you once you came home,” Lowden said. “Or you had to depend on your family or your church to help you find a job. Or you had to be an entrepreneur and start cutting grass. Nine times out of 10, those people who were not successful end up back in our correctional facilities.”
Lowden knows. He was the “reentry czar” under President Donald Trump and he helped former prisoners reenter the workforce. ViaPath provides tablet technology to prisons so inmates can learn new skills and get job training. Now they can look for a job at companies that want to hire them. According to Honest Jobs, the tablets are provided free of charge to the incarcerated and Honest Jobs is free for them to use.
“We cannot call them returning citizens if we don’t allow them to get a job,” Lowden said. “Because if you have a desperate person who can’t reintegrate back into the community, there’s no training, no jobs, they can’t get an apartment, they’re going to do some crazy things because they’re desperate.”
Colorado is one state with a “Ban the Box,” which prohibits employers with 11 or more employees from requiring job seekers to disclose their criminal history when applying for a job. The Colorado Chance to Compete Act, intended to get employers to consider an applicant’s qualifications first, went into effect Sept. 1, 2021. But while there are at least 37 states that ban the question, Lowden said there’s more to it than a box.
“Companies can always say, ‘Well, we ban the box. We don’t have that on our application.’ But it’s not just that you have to ban a box. You have to put somebody in the box,” he said. “And what I mean by in the box, you have to hire that person to show America that it is possible to give a person a second chance.”
More from The Colorado Sun:
➔ Mesa County’s new transition program: To keep people from returning to jail, Mesa County follows other communities’ reentry roadmap, reports Sun contributor Sharon Sullivan. >> Read
➔ ICYMI: Nearly half who leave prison in Colorado return within three years. Last year, the state put $1.1 million into a program to support businesses that hire the formerly incarcerated, reported The Sun’s Tatiana Flowers. >> Read
By the time September rolled around, consumer prices in the Denver area were rising slower than earlier in the year. If you recall, the metro area’s annual inflation rate had spiked to 9.1% in March, which was higher than the U.S.
With the region’s September rate slowing to 7.7%, that was considered good news, though local economists noted that it was still higher than a year ago. September’s rate was also lower than the U.S.’s 8.2%. In recent months, Denver’s rate has slowed — from 8.3% in May, 8.2% in July and, of course, 7.7% in September.
That’s why WalletHub in a report released Thursday put Denver’s inflation rate among the “rising the least” metro areas. It tied with Washington, D.C., for the second lowest. “It reflects the most recent ‘rises,’” WalletHub spokeswoman Diana Polk said.
Inflation is hard to calculate at many levels and hard to understand. As Phyllis Resnick, lead economist and executive director at the Colorado Futures Center at Colorado State University, shared in an earlier story on inflation, “every single household feels inflation in a way that’s unique to their mix of goods.”
➔ More inflation analysis: “What’s the Inflation Rate? It’s a Surprisingly Hard Question to Answer,” writes Wall Street Journal commentator Greg Ip. >> Read
➔$20+/hour hotel jobs: Hyatt Vacation Ownership is hoping higher wages and benefits — like ski passes and medical insurance — will help its four Vail and Breckenridge resorts attract the hourly workers needed to get through another season. Those include The Ranahan, Main Street Station, Eagle Point and Mountain Lodge. The company is hosting a virtual job fair on Nov. 15 between 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. to hire housekeepers ($22/hr), shuttle drivers ($21/hr) and groundskeepers and facilities maintenance techs ($20 to $25.20/hr). The only jobs that start lower, at $18, are baristas and recreation attendants. >> Register
➔ $5.49/hour for gig work? That’s the average for Denver gig workers, according to a new study by Colorado Jobs with Justice. The coalition, which works on advancing workers’ rights, used the Driver’s Seat Collective app to track location data and times Uber, Lyft and DoorDash drivers waited for rides and deliveries in January and February. The $5.49 is the reported hourly wage after expenses. Uber and DoorDash officials disputed the study, The Guardian reported. >> The Guardian, Colorado Jobs with Justice report
➔COVID fraud updates: With the billions of federal dollars made available to Americans in the pandemic, fraud was inevitable. Some of the latest charges shared by the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado:
➔ Denver’s small business curb appeal grants: The city’s Economic Development & Opportunity department has $750,000 available to help small businesses increase their curb appeal and revenue. Through the Business Façade Improvement Program, grants of $25,000 to $75,000 are available to businesses in Denver. Certain neighborhoods and budgets are being prioritized. >> Apply
As always, share your two cents on how the economy is keeping you down or helping you up at cosun.co/heyww. See you next week! ~ tamara
What’s Working is a Colorado Sun column about surviving in today’s economy. Email [email protected] with stories, tips or questions. Read the archive, ask a question at cosun.co/heyww and don’t miss the next one by signing up at coloradosun.com/getww.
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Tamara writes about businesses, technology and the local economy for The Colorado Sun. She also writes the "What's Working" column, available as a free newsletter at coloradosun.com/getww. Contact her at cosun.com/heyww,… More by Tamara Chuang
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