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Michigan Businesses Need Workers

This article appeared in the January/February 2022 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.

Manufacturers in Michigan are at a critical juncture. Economic recovery and expansion will require employers to grow their workforce, but they are struggling to fill open positions. Nationally, many in the business community are responding to labor shortages by training and hiring an untapped talent pool — the 78 million Americans whose involvement with the justice system has made it difficult to secure steady employment.

In Michigan, many business organizations (including the MMA) supported the passage of the 2020 Clean Slate legislation which increased the number of available workers. While this was an important first step, it did not address a root cause of the massive number of Americans with records — justice system policies that effectively criminalize poverty and limit the economic opportunities for countless individuals and families. Additional legislation will help Michigan’s economic resurgence while increasing equity in our society.

Workforce Challenge

Michigan’s current policies around court fines, fees and cash bail contribute to the mass criminalization that prevents businesses from building and maintaining an inclusive and sustainable workforce. These policies create additional consequences and even jail time due to a lack of wealth. For example, in a 2020 Michigan report by the National Center for Youth Law, one young person was unable to complete her terms of probation because of outstanding court fees that increase each month she remains on probation. She had to obtain a part-time job to pay the fees which made it difficult to remain in school. Choices like these negatively impact future employees as many youths sacrifice education for minimum wage jobs in order to pay non-crime related costs.

In another story shared on ACLU Michigan’s website, a young mother was supposed to start a new job as a certified nursing assistant on the day she was arrested. Unable to pay the $700 bail assessed, she spent a week away from her child while sitting in the Wayne County Jail, was unable to afford the exorbitant phone rates to contact her employer and her new employer had to deal with the consequences of a no call, no show.1

Many more people are at risk of suffering these additional consequences than one would think. The United Way’s ALICE in Michigan 20212 reports that 38 percent of Michigan households earn less than the basic cost of living. Two-thirds of these are employed holding jobs such as laborers, office clerks, cleaning and maintenance staff and others that support everyday business operations. These employees will likely struggle to pay a fine, fee or bail of any amount, and in turn, businesses experience increased absenteeism and turnover in their workforce.

The Legislative Landscape

Two bill packages could mitigate these issues. Both were introduced in the Michigan House in 2021 and await a hearing in the Judiciary Committee. The Juvenile Justice Fines & Fees bill package (House Bills 4987-4991) eliminates many juvenile fines and fees. The Pretrial Fairness bill package (House Bills 5436-5443) addresses recommendations from Michigan’s bipartisan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration that include upholding speedy court timelines and prioritizing non-monetary release conditions for people charged with non-serious offenses.

Michigan’s economy is counting on its workforce. Reforms like those before the Michigan House make sense because these policies can help bring more people into the workforce, keeping Michigan at the forefront of America’s future.

For more information, contact Jennifer Wyatt at jennifer.a.wyatt@ceoactionracialequity.com.

About the Author

CEO Action for Racial Equity is a Fellowship of over 100 companies from all across America, ranging from manufacturers to accountants, retailers and other suppliers, that mobilizes business leaders with diverse expertise to advance public policy.


  1. Copyright 2021 ACLU of Michigan. Originally posted by the ACLU of Michigan at www.aclumich.org
  2. Used with permission of United Way of Northern New Jersey