Romer: Clean Slate can help solve Colorado’s labor shortage |

Romer: Clean Slate can help solve Colorado’s labor shortage

The pandemic pushed millions of people out of the workforce, leaving over 11 million unfilled jobs. Here in Colorado, businesses are trying to fill more than 200,000 vacancies; in Eagle County, more than 2,000 jobs are open, and our unemployment rate is 2.5%.

As the president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, the valley’s primary business association, I have seen firsthand the workforce challenges facing our business community. Unfilled jobs become failed businesses, and those failed businesses hit our economy hard.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the intersection of business and public safety. Right now at the legislature, there’s a bipartisan opportunity to improve employment and public safety all at once: the Colorado Clean Slate Act (SB22-099).

Currently, one in five Coloradans — 1.3 million people — face an artificial and often completely unnecessary barrier to employment due to an old arrest or criminal record. Clean Slate legislation automatically “seals” certain types of criminal records, making it easier for deserving individuals who have served their time to apply for jobs. This makes a big difference. Currently, record-sealing is a complicated and expensive process, effectively putting a price tag on second chances. As a result, only about 5% of eligible Coloradans ever manage to seal their records.

The impact of Clean Slate goes beyond those receiving relief. Post-release employment is one of the biggest factors for reducing recidivism rates, and by making it easier for people with records to find work, we will make our communities safer. It also helps children in our state.

In 2021, the number of children in Colorado with at least one unemployed parent reached a record high of 50 percent. Compared to their peers, children with jobless parents have lower high school graduation rates, lower college attendance, lower adult earnings, and a greater reliance on public aid in adulthood. By expanding adult employment, we can help give Colorado’s blameless children the chances they deserve.

Clean Slate legislation will also boost our economy. Estimates show that the United States loses roughly $80 billion a year from the underemployment of people with criminal records. Automatic sealing will come with some startup costs, but it’s an investment that will strengthen our economy and yield dividends moving forward. By passing such a common-sense policy, our elected officials can demonstrate the fiscal responsibility we need from our leaders post-pandemic and make a real commitment to getting Colorado back on track.

We’ll also be taking a significant step toward a more equitable Colorado. Despite making up just one-quarter of the population, people of color account for more than half of our prison population. The effects of a criminal record on employment are also 40 percent more damaging for Black men than for white men. The benefits of Clean Slate will help level the playing field and help mitigate the disproportionately damaging effects of systemic racism in our state.

Through my work, I have always tried to look for opportunities for businesses to support and implement real, practical solutions that will improve our lives. Clean Slate legislation is one of those solutions. It’s no wonder our neighbors in Utah and other states like Pennsylvania and Michigan have already passed similar policies. By automatically clearing nonviolent criminal records, our legislature can reinvigorate our workforce, support our businesses and strengthen our economy. Colorado’s Senate agreed and passed Clean Slate nearly unanimously. It’s time for the House to follow suit, and for Coloradans with old records to be granted relief.

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