At 11 percent, South Carolina’s unemployment rate is the highest in the nation. Union County had the fifth-highest jobless rate in the state last month at 19.6 percent.
Unemployment was the subject of a panel discussion during Friday’s Union Community Partnership meeting. Sheriff David Taylor said domestic violence is a major problem in Union County and has worsened because of high unemployment.
Taylor said that 962 of the 22,000 service calls answered by deputies in 2008 were for domestic abuse. He said that in the first three months of 2008, three arrests were made for criminal domestic abuse of a high and aggravated nature. For the same period in 2009 nine arrests were made. Taylor blamed this increase on unemployment.
“We’ve got an extremely high rate of domestic abuse,” he said. “Drugs and alcohol play a big role in it and so does unemployment. When someone’s unemployed they spend more time at home and they get into it more. More time at home creates more violence at home.”
Just as unemployment helps fuel domestic violence, domestic violence helps fuel unemployment, according to Roy Lowe, senior work force specialist with CareerSource. While any felony conviction can hinder a person’s ability to get a job, crimes involving a physical assault on another person makes getting a job especially difficult, he said.
“If they get a criminal domestic violence or assault charge, any crime against persons on their record it automatically handicaps them,” he said. “A felony conviction is never good but a crime against persons will prevent you from getting a job in a hospital or nursing home or anything medical. Some trucking companies won’t hire you, either, and most temp agencies won’t hire you because the companies won’t let them.”
Other companies, however, will consider hiring a felon, even one convicted of a crime against a person, if some time has passed and there have been no further incidents. Lowe said in those cases the company will view it as one-time incident from the past that can be overlooked if an applicant’s record is clean otherwise.
In some cases, however, a company will not hire a convicted felon regardless of how old the conviction is. Lowe said in one case a man lost out on a job with a local company because of a 15-year-old felony conviction.
For those with recent convictions, Lowe said, they will at best have to settle for lower-paying jobs until some time has passed. At worst, they remain unemployed setting up the stage for another explosion of domestic violence. He said the frustration over unemployment that led to their criminal domestic violence or assault conviction is intensified by their inability to get a job because of their status as a felon. Unable to find work, they spend more time at home, setting up the possibility of a self-perpetuating cycle of future violence and continued unemployment.
Irvin Goodwin, assistant area director for the Employment Security Commission’s Union Workforce Center, said a person’s criminal background is one area employers look at before they’ll even consider hiring a job applicant.
“There are three things employers are going to check, particularly now with the unemployment rate so high,” he said. “They’re going to check your educational background, whether you’ve got a diploma or GED. They’re going to ask for a drug test and a criminal background. Those are three things that disqualify a lot of applicants. Primarily before they look at your credentials they’re going to look at those three areas.”
Goodwin said that during a recent series of job interviews for an area company, approximately 30 percent of the applicants were disqualified because of their background or a negative drug test. Some companies will waive the issue of a person’s background if the offense happened at least several years ago and there have been no additional offenses.
Persons who test positive for substance abuse will not, in most cases, be permitted such a waiver.
As for those who lack a high school diploma or GED, Goodwin said people who find themselves unemployed should try if at all possible to take advantage of programs that can help them get their GED. A GED or other training can increase a person’s chances of getting a job.