According to a report by Sabér Research, Memphis has a 43 percent unemployment rate for individuals who have been jobless for 52 weeks or longer. This is the highest long-term unemployment rate in the nation. Furthermore, 19 percent of the people residing in metropolitan Memphis are suffering from poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2011 American Community Survey.
Memphis City Council member Lee Harris isn't letting this go unnoticed nor unaddressed. He's proposed the "Discouraged Worker Opportunity Ordinance," which would require any firm that enters construction contracts with the city to set aside 10 percent of its funding for hiring disadvantaged workers. People who fall under the category of "disadvataged workers" include felons, those who reside in low-income households, and individuals who have been unemployed for a long period of time.
Those with felony records would potentially benefit the most from the ordinance since they typically face more challenges obtaining employment than the average citizen. According to a survey by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, "employers said that they would be more likely to hire welfare recipients, workers with little recent work experience, or lengthy unemployment over applicants with criminal records."
DeAndre Brown knows firsthand how difficult it can be to find a job. Brown was sentenced to 13 years in prison for bank fraud and identity theft but was released after 25 months. Upon his release, he applied to everything from fast food restaurants to grocery stores but was never hired.
"It was impossible for me to find employment," Brown said. "Every time I put an application in, I was always denied simply because I had a conviction. The answer was, 'We don't hire convicted felons.' It was so difficult for me."
To read more about the proposed ordinance, click here.