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An inclusive recovery depends on projects like the WSCC Addition
What's Next Washington and ANEW
An inclusive recovery depends on projects like the WSCC Addition

Some 70 million Americans have a conviction history, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. If current trends continue, by 2030, 100 million - one in three working adults - will have been convicted of a crime. Data show that these Americans are more likely to be people of color and people experiencing poverty.

The unemployment rate for these Americans was 27 percent during a pre-COVID labor shortage. During the last economic recession, it was 60 percent. The economic effects of the pandemic could worsen the situation for the formerly incarcerated.

“Without an inclusive recovery, people of color will suffer long term,” said Matt Griffin, principal at Pine Street Group, which is the development manager for the Washington State Convention Center (WSCC) Addition project on behalf of WSCC. “Projects like the Addition play an important role. The project is committed to removing barriers and creating employment opportunities, especially for individuals with more to overcome.”

The Addition project provides critical support to organizations such as What’s Next Washington and ANEW, which partner to work with these populations and break down barriers to employment. Having a job is key to long-term economic stability.

The project is expected to hire as many as 6,000 union construction workers, including 900 apprentices, over its three-plus-year construction period. As of June 2020, minorities compose 30% of the project workforce, and 24% of workers are “priority hires” from economically distressed ZIP codes. These jobs provide more than just pay and benefits during the project. They have the potential to build a lifetime of security for families.

“Given the outsized presence of people of color in the criminal justice system, focusing on workers with conviction histories directly diversifies the workforce,” Griffin said. “It builds access to a talent pool of millions. If people have served their time or paid their debt, we need to help them find a stable occupation or expect recidivism.”

Supporting Employers

What’s Next Washington is an organization of formerly incarcerated individuals and allies focused on helping employers achieve their diversity, equity and inclusion goals while helping people with conviction histories advance their careers and achieve long-term economic stability. This directly impacts the ability to build generational wealth within communities of color.

The Addition is partnering with What’s Next Washington and a Stanford scientist to gather data over six months on the project to compare job performance of workers with conviction histories and those without. The resulting insights will help identify causes of problems – such as chronic tardiness – that may damage productivity, and will enable What’s Next Washington to assist with solutions. 

“Longer term, we hope the data will lead companies to change policies that prevent formerly incarcerated talent from working at their construction sites and spur the hiring of people with conviction histories across industries,” said What’s Next Washington executive director Susan Mason (pictured). “This kind of evidence is key to overcoming policies that prevent access to millions of people who are willing and able to work. We need an employer the size of the Addition project to gather this data.”

Supporting Workers

ANEW’s pre-apprenticeship program provides training, support, accountability and connections that enable women – many of them of color and/or emerging from prison or detention – to pursue careers in the building trades.

ANEW’s partnership with the Addition channels apprentices into roles on the project as carpenters, landscapers, electricians, cement masons, and more. Two women from a recent cohort went to work on the Addition project after graduation this past August, and another set of apprentice candidates will graduate in November.

“Involvement with a project like the Addition is so important,” said ANEW Development Director Megan Clark. “Many of our graduates haven’t been working for years and are dealing with debt and unstable living situations. The project provides extensive opportunity, in a wide variety of trades, over time. This puts these workers on a path toward family-wage careers for life.”

General contractors Clark Construction Group and Lease Crutcher Lewis, the joint venture partners working on the Addition project, both believe solutions like these are important to build a diverse workforce. In addition to implementing the programs, both companies helped to fund the What’s Next Washington study and initiated the partnership with ANEW.

As our society develops renewed awareness of the structural issues that hold back people of color in America, solutions that build a diverse, equitable and inclusive community matter more than ever. The Addition project is proud to be playing a role, in partnership with committed organizations that are innovating to solve problems.

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