Workers of color face barriers to obtaining poverty-level jobs. A recent study focusing on Chicago and four other cities found that
“Major companies as well as smaller employers routinely deny people with criminal records any opportunity to establish their job qualifications. For any number of entry-level jobs, ranging from light industry to delivery driving to sales clerk positions, employers and staffing agencies unambiguously close the doors on applicants with criminal records, no matter how minor.”
Without stable employment, it is difficult for ex-offenders to stay out of the criminal justice system, which creates a revolving door within the prison system and denies returning citizens the opportunity to get out of poverty. While African-Americans and native-born Latinos are systematically excluded from work by often unlawful background checks, immigrants are routinely denied work due to a brutal workplace immigration enforcement regime that, while intended to exclude unauthorized workers from the workplace, in reality forces workers into underground contingent work at sub-minimum wages in often dangerous working conditions. Many employers often pay immigrants in cash and off-the-books. Meanwhile the temporary staffing industry employs over 300,000 workers in the Chicago region, shielding its client companies from enforcement tools like E-verify as well as violations ranging from worker accidents to wage theft to discrimination.
Women may face additional forms of discrimination. In the restaurant industry, where occupational segregation is rampant, women are concentrated in the lowest-paid segments of the industry, and must rely on tipped wages to make ends meet. When “the customer is always right,” female employees are subjected to pervasive sexual harassment and assault.
For the most egregious employers, discrimination may be a tool to artificially select the workforce, oftentimes based on workers' likelihood of reporting health and safety or wage theft violations. By systematically recruiting or hiring only certain types of employees, unscrupulous employers effectively create a class of workers whose substandard wages and working conditions often correlate with their race, national origin, gender, and/or citizenship status. Raise the Floor is partnering with state agencies to collect cases through the Raise the Floor Legal Department, to examine trends in low-wage industries and identify the patterns and practices used by employers to discriminate and how to stop them.