SF Chronicle Op-ed: Pass SB 1384 and Let Her Work
The following op-ed, written by ERA project attorney Natalie Lyons and CA Sen. Holly Mitchell, appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on August 6, 2014.
The story of poverty in America is told by women and children. Nearly 70 percent of those who live on the economic fringes are young or female. Almost half of today’s families rely on the mother’s income. Yet so many women are shut out of jobs for one reason: They have a criminal conviction.
Time and again, women with a criminal history struggle to escape impoverished circumstances because they’ve been denied the chance to work. The stigma of a conviction, no matter how old or how minor, bars them from much-needed jobs. They pound the pavement, applying for any available job, only to be rejected by employers who treat their criminal background as the whole story.
It isn’t the whole story, however. Poverty alone can lead to criminal activity. Mothers steal to provide food and clothing for their children. Abuse suffered by the majority of women with a criminal record leads to at-risk behaviors and ensuing criminal convictions. Wives and girlfriends retaliate against abusive partners. Years later – after they have completed drug treatment, abandoned unhealthy relationships, attended vocational training – they need work. And they need jobs that pay more than minimum wage, without requiring extensive or costly education.
On May 29, the state Senate passed SB1384, which provides rehabilitated people a real shot at entering the growing industry of certified-nursing-assistant jobs. Introduced by state Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, and sponsored by Equal Rights Advocates, it reforms impenetrable barriers to becoming a certified nursing assistant. Based on research showing that people can change, SB1384 paves a path to stable, living-wage jobs for rehabilitated men and women who are qualified and ready to work.
Through Let Her Work, a project led by Equal Rights Advocates in partnership with theNational Center for Lesbian Rights, we know these women. They have paid for their mistakes and done the hard work to change.
Sandra, a single mother, had been a certified nursing assistant since 2003, but her re-certification recently was denied, based on her only conviction, which arose from an incident with an abusive partner. Sandra wants to get up every morning, go to work and provide for those who need her. To her, a job as a certified nursing assistant means more than an income. “I like helping people,” she says. “Not only does caregiving provide a chance to earn a living, it gives me a greater sense of purpose.”
Giving women like Sandra the opportunity to be certified nursing assistants is good for California families and for the economy, in the form of increased income-tax revenues and reduced public welfare expenditures. It makes economic and moral sense.
To wage a successful war on poverty, there must be opportunity for all. Without equal access to employment, there is no opportunity. SB1384 provides essential access to living-wage employment for people who, like Sandra, simply want a chance to earn a living and support their families.
Very simply – it lets them work.
State Sen. Holly Mitchell represents Los Angeles in the California Legislature. Natalie Lyons is an attorney at Equal Rights Advocates in San Francisco.
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