Long-term unemployed facing discrimination?

We've all heard that it's easier to get a job when you already have a job. But could employers be discriminating against the unemployed because they're not working now?

In a tough job market, people like Michael Westerholm, CBS News Correspondent Elaine Quijano reported, are getting anxious as time ticks by since their last job.

For nearly 20 years, Westerholm rose through the ranks at postage equipment giant Pitney Bowes in Stamford, Conn., eventually becoming director of business development.

But in January, his position was eliminated and his search for a new job began.

Now, after sending out dozens of resumes and going on half a dozen interviews, Westerholm is getting restless.

Five reasons companies shun the unemployed

He told CBS News, "It kind of grates on you a little bit. You kind of think about it, you know, 'What's my next step? Should I call them again? I called them six times. I don't want to be a pest.'"

But he's just one of 14 million Americans currently unemployed - and is about to become one of the more than six million Americans who've been looking for work for six months or longer.

That half-year mark is a tipping point for getting hired, according to the National Employment Law Project, a national advocacy organization for employment rights of lower-wage workers.

Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, said, "There's just a lot of assumptions that get built up around being unemployed by employers or employment agencies really not wanting to take a chance on the unemployed."

In a new report, the organization says companies are less likely - and in some cases unwilling - to hire those out of work for six months or more. It found 150 listings, including one requiring applicants to be "currently employed" - a practice the group considers to be discriminatory.

Owens said, "I think that employers might feel that someone who has been out of work for more than six months has begun to lose skills, which could be true for some people, but is certainly not true for most people."

The issue has even hit Capitol Hill where legislation has been introduced that would make this practice illegal.

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said, "This is un-American, it's unfair and it should not be legal in America to do that."

Westerholm says he believes employers who immediately dismiss unemployed candidates are missing out.

He said, "There's a lot of good talent out there, and for somebody to pass somebody over just because they're in that position is short-sighted."

On "The Early Show" co-anchor Chris Wragge added CBS News inquired with the company about the posting that required applicants to be currently employed, and they responded that it must be a typo, and promptly removed just minutes later from the requirements section.

On "The Early Show," John Challenger, chief executive officer of the job placement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas, said employers worry about employing people out of the workforce because they're looking for people who are driven with up-to-date knowledge.

"Everybody likes experience but they worry about your urgency, they worry about the currency of your skills and wonder maybe has inertia set in through this long period of unemployment," he said. "So employers are in the driver's seat right now, it's a buyer's market, a lot of candidates to look at and you can be like a house that's been on the market for a long time. They just say, 'Maybe I missed something that someone else saw,' so it doesn't seem fair if you've been out of work for that long a period of time."

But Challenger said the long-term unemployed can turn their time out of work into a selling point.

He explained, "You've got to, in fact, prove to them that long period of time makes you more urgent. You want that job. You're going to work harder for that company than anybody they find because you know what it's like to be unemployed. And you want to fill in the gaps in your resume, if you've done volunteer or consulting work, make sure you tell them about that. And maybe it's just that you've been out of work for a while, because you decided to take time off to take care of an ailing parent, so you can explain sometimes a gap because you had more pressing personal issues to take care of."

To people who have been searching for work for a long time, Challenger advised, "You have to bring those people around you who lift you up, you have to stay at it like a full time job. You've got to fight for your employment. Maybe it means taking a job a part-time job or something to get back to work that gets you back in that working mode. You could keep looking today while you're working. So nothing says you can't take a job for less money even, but it gets you back in the picture."

So what kind of jobs are available now?

Health care is a strongest industry in the country adding 24,000 jobs on average in the last year, Challenger said. He added, just in the last month, leisure and hospitality added 34,000 jobs. Energy has been a strong sector, along with skilled jobs, professional business services, engineers, accountants and information technology workers.

And where are those jobs?

Challenger said one of the hottest places in the U.S. right now for jobs is Texas. In the last two years Texas has added 262,000 jobs. Payrolls have risen 2.9% since the recession. He added North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska have also had relatively low unemployment.

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