Kudos to Chattanooga and one of its contractors for seeking out ways to help felons get work in a depressed area of Chattanooga.
Hendersonville, Tenn.-based Environmental Abatement Inc. assures residents of city ZIP code 37406 that a criminal history will not exclude them from employment when the company tears down the closed Harriett Tubman housing site sometime in September or October.
The construction company submitted its Workforce Projection Form to the city Wednesday. The city attorney's office is reviewing the papers, but preliminary documents stated the company will hire 13 to 16 people for five to six months at $18.75 an hour.
Those 13 to 16 jobs will be resume builders for these people. And this contract likely will be duplicated in other city projects and hopefully in private businesses, too.
After a story by Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter Yolanda Putman appeared in the paper Thursday, Chattanooga Office of Multicultural Affairs Director James McKissic said his phone was "ringing off the hook."
"We've had well over 100 calls and emails today," he said. "I went away for an hour for a meeting and had 27 calls when I got back. This is a major need. It's huge. It would be great if more private employers would get on board and start to give people a second chance."
The 37406 ZIP code is primarily East Chattanooga, including Amnicola Highway, Dodson Avenue, Glass Street and a portion of Tunnel Boulevard. The 14,627 people who live there are 80 percent black and 55 percent female. The 13-square-mile area has a median household income of $27,816, an unemployment rate ranging from 8.26 to 11 percent and the highest infant health risk in the county. Comparatively, the city's median household income is $44,140 and unemployment is 7.6 percent.
The number of unemployed people in Tennessee is the lowest since June 2008, but many East Chattanooga residents say they can't find jobs. Less than 30 percent of East Chattanooga residents age 18 and older graduated from high school and the crime rate is 233 percent above the nation's average, according to realtor.com.
It isn't just this ZIP code, however, that needs help.
A record number of Americans have tangled with the criminal justice system, according to national reports. About one in three adult Americans has some kind of criminal record, including arrests that did not lead to convictions, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. And a national organization known as the National Employment Law Project estimates that one in four Americans -- 65 million people -- has a record that would show up on routine background checks.
We all intuitively know that employment is one of the most effective ways to reduce recidivism and to support low-income communities. There's a plus for employers, too. Workers who get a second chance work harder because they feel they have something to prove.
A national initiative called "Ban the Box," is a campaign to make employers remove questions about criminal history from job applications, postponing such queries until a later stage of the hiring process.
A dozen states have come on board, including Rhode Island and California. There have been no takers in the South, though bills have been introduced in Georgia and several other Southeastern states.
Today, in a tiny community in Chattanooga, we have a local start. And a good one.