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Former felons having tough time finding jobs

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WAUSAU, Wis. (WAOW) -- Wausau resident Seng Chanthavong was one of the thousands of former prisoners who are looking for work.

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the unemployment rate for those who were in prison in 2018 is 27%. More than five times the national rate of 5.8%, and 3.9% in the Badger State.

"The difficulties in finding jobs, from a background check to the series of what you have to go through just to get into the door, it is pretty tough at first but you know you got to take the chances of walking in," said Chanthavong.

But it's not for lack of trying. In its report, the Prison Policy Institute found that 93% of those who had been incarcerated were actively looking for work.

That compares to the 83% of the rest of the population.

There are resources that can help, including The Open Door in Wausau.

"We talk to so many people, get things on a daily basis, jobs that are becoming available, hot jobs. I mean there's so many different ones that we can do and we're willing to work with our people one-on-one to try to find those jobs for them," said Anne Dore, Executive Director, The Open Door.

Wisconsin law bars employers from discriminating against a person because of a criminal record. Unless the conviction is “substantially related” to the job.

A big fear that some former felons have, checking that "Yes" box on applications that ask if they've ever been incarcerated.

"You need to be able to base your worth as an employee by your actions and not by what you put on a piece of paper before you even get hired," said Rachel Hooper of Wausau.

Those in our area say, it's taken months to find a job, even after applying to several places around town. But they say when that job comes knocking, answer it.

"Finding somebody that would actually give me that chance to prove myself, even for the bare minimum it's worth it. If they give it to you just take it," Chanthavong said.

Bobby Falat

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