Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Unemployed Can’t Get Jobs Because They Are…Unemployed

February 24th, 2011 | James Parks

Image: James ParksAs if finding a job isn’t hard enough, unemployed workers now face the added hurdle of being discriminated against because they don’t have a job. Speaking today before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP),  said that practices barring the unemployed from job availabilities have been growing around the country—and place a disproportionate burden on older workers, African Americans and other workers facing high levels of long-term unemployment.

“There is a disturbing and growing trend among employers and staffing firms to refuse to even consider the unemployed for available job openings, regardless of their qualifications,” said Owens.

Excluding unemployed workers from employment opportunities is unfair to workers, bad for the economy and potentially violates basic civil rights protections because of the disparate impact on older workers, workers of color, women and others. At a time when we should be doing whatever we can to open up job opportunities, it is profoundly disturbing to see deliberate exclusion of the jobless from work opportunities.

The EEOC, which is responsible for handling complaints of employment discrimination, began to receive reports of systematic and often blatant exclusion of unemployed workers from consideration for jobs early last summer. Many ads for jobs often specify that only currently employed candidates will be considered, or that no unemployed candidates will be considered, regardless of the reason for unemployment, or that no candidate unemployed for more than a certain period will be considered.

The job market is tough because the economy is not creating enough jobs. There are still roughly five officially unemployed job seekers for every new job opening.  The economy would need to add roughly 11 million jobs just to return to employment levels at the start of the recession.

Refusal to consider candidates simply because they are unemployed imposes an especially harsh burden on people of color, especially African Americans.  In January 2011, when the official unemployment rate overall was 9.0 percent, the unemployment rate for African Americans was 15.7 percent, compared with only 8.0 percent for white workers.

Similarly, long-term unemployment is far more severe among older Americans than younger workers, which means the impact of excluding unemployed workers from job consideration is greater for older workers.

Owens told the commission:

The dire job market has made it essential that Congress and the administration maintain the most robust program of unemployment insurance benefits in the nation’s history. But what’s needed most—and what all unemployed workers most want—is jobs.

Click here to see Owens’ full testimony before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

This post originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on February 16, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: James Parks-My first encounter with unions was at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when my colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. I saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. I am a journalist by trade, and I worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. I also have been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. My proudest career moment, though, was when I served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.

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