A Healthy Balance: Expanding Health Care Job Opportunities for Californians with a Criminal Record

The rapidly growing health care industry presents a major economic opportunity for the nation and for states such as California. Health care and related occupations are expected to account for half of California’s top 20 fastest-growing fields between 2010 and 2020.

There is especially strong and growing demand for entry-level health care workers. The number of home health aides employed to care for the state’s aging population, for example, is projected to increase by over 50 percent by 2020. Employment for personal care aides, emergency medical technicians, and paramedics is expected to significantly expand as well.

Entry-level health care jobs offer opportunity to job-seekers with limited skills and education. It is critical that these job opportunities be available to all qualified workers, including workers from underserved ethnically and racially diverse communities, who possess the cultural competency to deliver quality care to their communities. Unfortunately, too many job seekers from these communities are shut out of such job opportunities because of a criminal record, despite the fact that the vast majority of arrests in California, especially of people of color, are for non-violent offenses.

The critical question explored in this report is whether these viable entry-level health care occupations will be available to qualified workers with a criminal record, who now constitute one in four adult Californians. This report uses legal and empirical research coupled with interviews of stakeholders to document and evaluate the role that criminal background checks play in limiting access to health care jobs in California. Although much more work remains to be done, the report’s findings and recommendations, which are summarized below, help lay the groundwork for a more informed debate of the issues and of the most promising options to help remove unnecessary barriers to employment of people with a criminal record.

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