Richard, I'll call him, lives in Chester, is 59 and unemployed, so when the U.S. Census Bureau started advertising for census takers, he applied for the job. After all $17.75 an hour is decent pay, even for temporary work. But the Census has made it all but impossible for him to get a job, Richard said. You can read my article about this problem and about a lawsuit that has been filed against the bureau in Wednesday's Philadelphia Inquirer.
Here's Richard's story: In 2001 and 2002, (or maybe it was 2000 and 2001), he was arrested twice for driving under the influence. Something must have made an impact on him because, "I haven't had a drink in seven and a half years."
When Richard applied to the Census, the bureau scanned a national FBI database and kicked up his arrest record. They sent him a letter asking for all sorts of court documents relating to his arrest. Richard said that getting copies of these documents represents a real burden to him, because he is unemployed and the trip to Media to get the documents would be hard for him to afford.
Richard wonders why the Bureau can't get the records and see for themselves. Also, he wonders what possible relevance this arrest would have on his ability to walk door-to-door and ask people questions.
The Bureau's response is that it is necessary to guarantee the safety of the American citizenry from miscreants who might show up as Census takers. Agreed. That's very important. It would be horrible for someone to trust the U.S. Census Bureau, open his door to a stranger and then be robbed or assaulted or worse.
But are people like Richard a danger?
Is everyone who makes a mistake doomed for life? How about someone arrested, but acquitted or not prosecuted? I agree that Richard's arrest was no laughing matter. Someone could have easily been hurt. But no one was and now at least eight years have gone by. What are the implications of this for employment when one out four people in our nation are arrested and a third of those end up not being convicted or prosecuted.
You may innocent, but unemployed.