The Jobless in America Remain Jobless in America

Job-placement professionals say that over the last year, more and more American employers have made it clear they won’t consider job candidates who aren’t working. “A lot of our recruiters have had clients who have come across this,” Matt Deutsch of TopEchelon.com, which brings recruiters together to collaborate in finding jobs for candidates–told The Lookout–calling the practice “unfortunate.”

With the number of Americans who have been out of work for six months or longer at a whopping 6.2 million, and with 4.7 unemployed workers for every job opening, advocates for the jobless say this growing form of hiring discrimination creates another hurdle for the increasingly desperate ranks of the unemployed. “At a moment when we all should be doing whatever we can to open up job opportunities to the unemployed, it is profoundly disturbing that the trend of deliberately excluding the jobless from work opportunities is on the rise,” Christine Owens, who runs the National Employment Law Project, told the EEOC.

Some experts say that discrimination against the jobless, as currently practiced, may violate civil rights laws–a question the commission is now considering. In itself, such discrimination isn’t illegal. (New Jersey is exploring legislation that would prohibit job ads telling the unemployed not to apply.) But it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race or age. And Blacks and older workers are disproportionately represented among the long-term unemployed–meaning we/they may be bearing the brunt of discrimination against the jobless.

The EEOC declined to say whether it’s investigating specific cases of potential violations.

Some employers have said they’re unwilling to hire unemployed workers because they believe that if a worker has once been let go, that’s a sign that he or she is probably not a great hire. “People who are currently employed … are the kind of people you want as opposed to people who get cut,” one recruiter told the Atlanta Journal Constitution in October.

And as Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke has said, when people are out of work for a long time, their skills can erode, which may understandably make them less attractive to employers.

But Deutsch said that a bias against the jobless is also a time-saving device for companies that may themselves be making do with less, thanks to the downturn. “If you’ve got a huge stack of submissions, and you want to get through them quickly, [you can say] ‘OK, all the people who are not currently employed, forget them,’ ” Deutsch explained. “That’s gonna cut down on your workload.”

However, aside from the damage that this practice does to unemployed candidates, employers who adopt it may be shooting themselves in the foot, since they’re probably screening out qualified applicants who were laid off through no fault of their own. “To think that that’s going to bring you all the qualified candidates you want to see is probably not the case,” Deutsch said.

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