Let’s say you’re a Portland citizen. You were an assistant manager of an auto parts store for almost nine years, and were laid off a few months ago. You have an excellent reference from your former employer, coach your son’s Little League team, and have had no brushes with the law, not even a speeding ticket. You hear a new auto parts store is opening, and send them your resume. Move quickly to the back of the line.
There are a dozen felons who are more likely to get the job than you are. Why? The Mayor of Portland just announced a new policy that will give any Portland business a $10,000 tax break for hiring felons who have served their sentence.
Obviously, there are a lot of reasons to hire an ex-felon. You get the satisfaction of giving your fellow man a second chance. You get the possibility that their gratitude will turn to loyalty that will turn to exceptional job performance. If you’re a total jerk, you might even think you don’t have to pay or treat an ex-felon as well, because their parole officer says they need to stay employed.
Of course, this being Portland, you can’t call them felons any more. Last year’s politically correct term was “ex offenders”. But even that was too descriptive. The correct 2015 term is “returning citizens.” Honest.
The $10,000 tax credit is just the latest in a string of absurd policies that have become part of what passes for normal in Portland. For lack of a better term, call it Absurdity Creep.
The tipping point was reached in early 2014 when Portland Mayor Charlie Hales announced that his administration will “ban the box,” a simple little box on city job applications that asked applicants to identify if they were a convicted criminal or had been incarcerated.
Then on January 10, the Mayor went completely over the edge. He had a Saturday afternoon meeting at a local church with the Police Bureau Union and a group called #Don’t Shoot Portland. If you can’t guess what they’re all about, here’s their mission statement: “We are Don’t Shoot Portland: citizen advocates united in protest against systemic racism, police brutality, and state violence. We stand in solidarity with the #Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter movements. We demand justice.”
At the meeting, Theresa Raiford, an organizer for #Don’t Shoot Portland, sat next to the Mayor and read a written question from the audience: “Since we all acknowledge that policing has been unfair to people of color, and primarily black men, when are you going to give African-American men a second chance when they have felonies that they have prevented them from advancing professionally?”
The Mayor couldn’t wait to answer: “Alright, that’s a great question. One: we have ‘Banned the Box’ in City hires, so that we’ve gotten rid of that, and around that, I believe that we should also have that policy for other employers in the City.”
But Hales was just getting warmed up. “Second thing that we are going to do in my administration,” he said, “we’re going to copy a wonderful program that the Mayor of Philadelphia Mike Nutter put in place, where we provide businesses an incentive to hire returning citizens, we used to call them ex offenders …
“Philadelphia gives businesses a ten thousand dollar per year tax credit for hiring returning citizens … I want to cross out Philadelphia and put in Portland on that …”
When asked when Portland will follow through with this promise, the Mayor told the audience that the $10,000 bonus for businesses that hire ex-felons will be in Portland’s Spring budget.
Bad as all that is, the Mayor goes on to gloat that Philadelphia’s recidivism rate for “returning citizens” is ultra-low. Only 7%. But what if you compare that 7% to the population as a whole? Only 0.5% of the adult population of Pennsylvania are felons. It’s the same number in Oregon. Assuming the recidivism rates are the same in both cities, the taxpayers of Portland will soon pay $10,000 a head to encourage businesses to hire an applicant who is 14 times more likely to commit a felony than the average Joe who just wants a job.
Portland Tribune Photo: Chris Onstott