As President Obama hits the road on his jobs agenda bus tour, millions of individuals trying to re-enter the job market, seeking to eke out a modest living so that they too can live the American Dream – or what’s left of it anyway – are stuck in a rut. They write hundreds of cover letters, perfect their interview techniques and network like crazy, but sometimes the barriers are too high.
What some may not know is that a number of employers, including household-name companies, have taken the position that the unemployed should forget about obtaining a job altogether.
Log on to any jobs site, do a quick search and the results may surprise you: slews of job ads are essentially warning the out-of-work that they worthless and disposable.
Welcome to 21st Century, post-Recession hiring discrimination: where you must be an “employed or recently employed” person to get a job.
Yes, for those individuals who make up the 9.1 percent unemployed in the United States, many laid off through no fault of their own, misfortune is a disqualifier. Numerous employers, staffing agencies and online job posting firms have adopted policies that explicitly deny employment to the unemployed. And they don’t even try to cover up their intent. The language in the qualification requirement sections of the ads leave nothing to the imagination: “currently employed,” “must be currently employed,” “currently employed on a permanent basis,” “must be currently or recently employed” etc. If you are none of the above, as 14 million Americans are, you’re out of luck.
How widespread is this practice? When the National Employment Law Project did an independent, one-month survey earlier this year of popular job sites such as CareerBuilder.com, Indeed.com, Monster.com, and Craigslist.com, their snapshot came up with more than 150 ads containing employment-based exclusions, including 125 ads that were identified by company name. In my own research (done over the course of an hour this past week) I was able to find close to 20 more ads on these same sites. In other words, this is not a case of anomalous malice.
Who are the culprits? Aside from companies and hiring agencies you may have never heard of, included in the list of prejudicial employers are Allstate Insurance, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, the Homebuilding Recruiters of America, the University of Arizona, the University of Phoenix, and the Oil and Gas Field Recruiters of America. Sony Ericsson only ended the practice after they were caught by CNN-Money last year during its reporting on this trend.
These practices not only smell of foul prejudice, but also lay bare the big political and economic reality of the day: The longer you’ve been laid off, the less likely you are to get a job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 6.2 million unemployed persons were out of work for six months or longer in July, and the average length of unemployment rose to more than 40 weeks, or more than nine months. That leaves these millions of people outside the definition of “recently employed.” Moreover, we are now entering the third consecutive year in which there are at least four unemployed persons for each available job opening.
The tools being employed by these companies are creating a permanent underclass of unemployed individuals. Talk about kicking someone when they’re down.
Accepting these practices sends a simple message to the unemployed: You are invisible and less worthy of the American Dream than anyone else who has a job. With something so blatant, so foul and so well-documented, acceptance is tantamount to complicity.
Some members of Congress are trying to crush this practice once and for all. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and her colleague Henry Johnson, Jr., D-Ga., introduced the Fair Employment Opportunity Act of 2011, which makes it illegal to refuse to consider job applicants solely because they are unemployed. So far, though,the bill has moved nowhere, ignored by the Republican leadership in the House.
It is time to put pressure on the House to take up this bill for a vote. Members of Congress should be called to account on this issue so that the voices of the unemployed are not drowned out in the austerity, anti-worker wave generated by congressional conservatives. Call your representatives and tell them to speak out publicly and support this bill. If we truly want an America, indivisible, where liberty and justice are guaranteed for all, we have some fighting to do.
EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this post included Allstate Insurance and Enterprise Rent-A-Car in the list of companies cited by the National Employment Law Project as having published help-wanted ads discriminating against the unemployed. A spokesman for Allstate Insurance sent this response: "The suggestion that Allstate will not hire someone because he or she is unemployed is absolutely false. The company considers and hires candidates based on their qualifications, not their current employment status. The job posting referenced in your recent blog and in the National Employment Law Project was not for employment with Allstate Insurance Company, but, rather, for employment with an Allstate agent. Allstate agents are independent business people. The job posting in question no longer exists." Enterprise Rent-A-Car also disputed its inclusion in the National Employment Law Project list. The full text of the ad that was mentioned in the NELP report specifies that job applicants must have had “fewer than two terminations in 5 years” but specifically exempts people involuntarily laid off.