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Shunning the Jobless: Companies Will Hire You, But Not If You Are Unemployed

Need a job? Better have one first. Many companies looking to hire disqualify the unemployed from applying, according to a report by the National Employment Law Project:
U.S. employers of all sizes, staffing agencies and online job posting firms are using recruitment and hiring policies that expressly deny employment to the unemployed -- simply because they are not currently working.
In other words, at a time when the competition for jobs is extraordinarily intense -- with more than nearly five unemployed job-seekers for each new job opening -- some businesses and recruitment firms are telling would-be job-seekers that they can't get a job unless they already have a job.
In a recent sampling of online job ads that ran on,, and, the non-profit advocacy group found more than 150 listings that excluded job-hunters based on their employment status. Most of the ads required that applicants for the positions already have work. The hiring companies, roughly half of which were staffing firms, included big, small and midsize businesses, and the jobs being filled included both blue- and white-collar positions at all levels. In other words, virtually anyone can fall into the trap.

Presumed jobless
Why are employers doing it? For one, to make the hiring process easier. Screening out jobless people is one way for companies to cope with the surge of résumés coming in (although isn't that what computers are for?). For the long-term unemployed, hiring managers may fear that their skills have eroded, making them less valuable than someone who has stayed in the work force. A more pernicious bias may also be at work in which employers presume that people with jobs are more competent and hard-working than those who are unemployed.

Unjust? A demonization of millions of Americans harmed by economic forces beyond their control? No doubt. But not illegal, it seems. The NYT notes that refusing to hire the unemployed probably doesn't violate discrimination law because the jobless don't constitute protected class, like older people or the disabled. As NELP executive director Christine Owens tells CBS:

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.
Some states are beginning to crack down on such hiring practices. In April, New Jersey became the first state in the nation to ban it outright, with employers facing penalties of $1,000 the first time they are caught excluding a jobless applicant and $5,000 for subsequent offenses. At the federal level, Reps. Rose DeLauro, D-Conn., and Henry Johnson Jr., D.-Ga., have introduced legislation that would fine employers and staffing agencies that refuse to consider unemployed job-seekers.

Remember "wrong"?
While such laws could help, they might be hard to enforce. Employers can find other ways to ignore or discourage the unemployed beyond spelling out their requirements in an ad. As one recruiter tells the Times:

"Clients don't always tell us 'we don't want to see résumés from unemployed workers,' but we can sense from what people have interested them in the past that they're probably looking for somebody who's gainfully employed, who's closer to the action," said Dennis Pradarelli, a talent acquisition manager for Marbl, a recruiting firm in Brookfield, Wis.
In such cases, employers may in fact be short-changing themselves. In the greatest U.S. economic crisis since the Great Depression, plenty of skilled, hard-working people have lost jobs through no fault of their own. They're victims of circumstance, not apathetic clock-punchers. And it stands to reason that someone who is finally returning to the workforce after a long period on the sidelines is going to take that job seriously.

If precluding the unemployed from going back to work is poor social policy, it's also bad for the economy. With more than 14 million Americans unemployed -- 6.3 million of them, or 44 percent, out of work for at least six months -- and with corporate layoffs on the rise, we can hardly afford to exclude so many people from even the possibility of gainful work. It's unfair, perverse and just plain wrong.


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