In January, NPR profiled how driver’s license suspensions unfairly “tax” the poor. NPR cited a study by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators that found nationally, “About 40 percent of [driver’s license] suspensions are for unpaid traffic tickets, and for things like not paying child support, or getting caught with drugs — things that have nothing to do with unsafe driving.” These suspensions can function as a “tax” because one little unpaid parking ticket, for instance, snowballs into late fees, court fees, payment plan fees, and reinstatement fees: all fees which a person who had the funds to pay the initial ticket will never face and which can add up to tens of thousands of dollars.
Many driving jobs are just for light trucks or buses and require just a couple days of training. Right off the bat, that can be the difference between getting paid $8 per hour in the warehouse or $12 per hour making internal deliveries. -Daniel Rossi, NLEN
Over the past few months, we at CJC have spoken about this issue with several frontline service providers in Chicago, including North Lawndale Employment Network (NLEN), Goodwill Workforce Connection Centers, Teamwork Englewood, and Growing Home, among others. As we asked about some of the biggest barriers job seekers currently face, frontline staff helped us understand some of the multiple, overlapping challenges of a suspended driver’s license—beyond the obvious challenge of not being able to legally drive (for instance, to trainings or interviews):
- Costs: As mentioned above, the costs associated with a suspended license grow exponentially when late fees kick in. Many—perhaps most—affected job seekers owe more than $1,000 in fees and fines. Reinstating a license can involve multiple trips to government offices across the state, depending on the issue, adding significant travel costs on top of the fees.
- Job options: Jobs requiring a driver’s license (e.g., long-distance truck driving, or bus driving with CTA) are projected to grow in the future, require minimal training, and pay significantly higher than entry-level non-driving jobs. As Daniel Rossi at NLEN pointed out to us, the transportation industry overall is “pretty welcoming of folks with felonies.” The food service sector, as well, pays a higher starting wage to drivers who can transport food and goods.
- Criminal records: The NPR article reports that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found “at least 75 percent of Americans who get their licenses suspended continue driving.” Driving with a suspended license—even if it was suspended for non-driving reasons (such as child support arrears, unpaid parking tickets)—can result in a felony conviction after a certain number of citations. Obviously, driving with a suspended license is illegal. However, it’s important to stress that in Illinois, someone can fail to pay a parking ticket and then drive with a suspended license, and end up with a felony, classifying them among the most extreme criminals in society. According to the Convicted in Cook database (information on convictions by charge across Cook County), 8% of all felony convictions in Cook County are related to driving on a suspended or revoked license.
- Time: In Illinois, driver’s licenses are issued, suspended, and revoked by the Secretary of State’s office. But a license can be suspended, for instance, due to unpaid parking tickets—owed to the issuing city—and can require an in-person court order to reinstate—obtained at the county court. Navigating these distinct systems is extremely time-intensive, with multiple in-person trips possible at each level—and, needless to say, separate fees collected at each level, as well.
CJC recognizes that suspended driver’s licenses and associated costs are serious challenges facing many job seekers who work with CJC members and other workforce organizations across Illinois. We want to engage the workforce field in discussion on this barrier to employment.
What are your stories of how issues related to driver’s licenses and associated costs are a barrier to job seekers? What works to reduce the time or cost of getting a license reinstated? What advice would you give to other workforce professionals assisting job seekers with suspended licenses?