A One-Two Punch in the Fight Against Discrimination

The New York Times today delivers a one-two punch on behalf of workers fighting the pernicious practice of employers discriminating against unemployed job-seekers in hiring.

First, the Times' Catherine Rampell lands a body blow with a major article in the Business section titled 'The Help-Wanted Sign Comes With a Frustrating Asterisk', featuring quotes from unemployed worker Kelly Wiedemer:

The unemployed need not apply.

That is the message being broadcast by many of the nation’s employers, making it even more difficult for 14 million jobless Americans to get back to work.

A recent review of job vacancy postings on popular sites like Monster.com, CareerBuilder and Craigslist revealed hundreds that said employers would consider (or at least “strongly prefer”) only people currently employed or just recently laid off.

Unemployed workers have long suspected that the gaping holes on their résumés left them less attractive to employers. But with the country in the worst jobs crisis since the Great Depression, many had hoped employers would be more forgiving.

Photo credit: Kevin Moloney for The New York Times“I feel like I am being shunned by our entire society,” said Kelly Wiedemer, 45, an information technology operations analyst who said a recruiter had told her that despite her skill set she would be a “hard sell” because she had been out of work for more than six months.

Photo: Kevin Moloney for The New York Times

The National Employment Law Project, a nonprofit organization that studies the labor market and helps the unemployed apply for benefits, has been reviewing the issue, and last week issued a report that has nudged more politicians to condemn these ads.

Given that the average duration of unemployment today is nine months — a record high — limiting a search to the “recently employed,” much less the currently employed, disqualifies millions.

The positions advertised with preferences for the already-employed run the gamut. Some are for small businesses, and others for giants, including the commercial University of Phoenix (which, like some other companies, removed the ads after an inquiry by The New York Times) or the fast-food chain Pollo Tropical. They cover jobs at all skill levels, including hotel concierges, restaurant managers, teachers, I.T. specialists, business analysts, sales directors, account executives, orthopedics device salesmen, auditors and air-conditioning technicians.

The best solution, economists say, would be to encourage job growth more broadly, which may initially involve poaching people from other companies but could eventually draw even the least desirable workers back into jobs. During the boom years of the late ’90s, the labor market was so tight that ex-convicts had relatively little trouble finding work.

In the meantime, people like Ms. Wiedemer — who has been out of work for three years — are exhausting their benefits and piecing together what support they can from food stamps and family members. And they are stuck hoping that economic growth manages to outpace their own descent into permanent economic exile.

“I worry that unemployment may eventually come down, not because older workers who have been unemployed for a year or two find jobs,” Professor Shimer said, “but because older workers finally give up and drop out of the labor force.”

Federal legislation has recently been introduced in Congress that would ban such exclusionary discrimination against unemployed job-seekers on the basis of workers not having but needing a job.

The New York Times rang the bell for lawmakers by endorsing the measure in an editorial titled 'One Way to Help the Jobless':

It is hard to recall a time when it was tougher to find a job. Fully two years after the official end of the recession, unemployment is at 9.2 percent. Job creation has stalled. Making things even more difficult, many employers, staffing agencies and online job-posting firms are expressly screening out applicants who are unemployed, apparently as an expedient to cull résumés, or on the presumption that the unemployed are poor performers.

The last thing America’s job-seekers need are policies that require them to have a job in order to get a job. Rejecting the unemployed is also bad economics because it casts aside qualified workers who could perhaps perform jobs sooner or better than already employed candidates.

A bill introduced this month in the House would fix the problem, but with Congress bent on slashing the budget even as joblessness worsens, it faces an uphill battle.

The Fair Employment Opportunity Act of 2011, sponsored by Democrats Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Henry Johnson Jr. of Georgia, would prohibit employers and employment firms from rejecting applicants solely because they are unemployed. It would also make it illegal to state in job advertisements that jobless workers will not be considered.

The bill has 30 Democratic co-sponsors in the House and no Republican supporters — so far. It also does not yet have, and clearly needs, a champion in the Senate. With joblessness being the economy’s No. 1 problem, is it really asking too much for lawmakers to move on a targeted piece of legislation that could do some good while doing no harm?

We have a special web page for workers to submit personal stories of discriminatory exclusion in hiring due to being unemployed.  If you have a specific experience, where you've been told you would not be considered for a job solely because of your joblessness submit your story here.


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