GUEST COMMENTARY: Millions can't get work precisely because they're out of work

Monday, September 19, 2011 | 10:29 a.m. CDT

Across the country, in every region and at companies large and small, unemployed people are being told they are ineligible to apply for vacancies.

Everyone knows that it's illegal to discriminate in hiring when it comes to race, gender, disability status and, in some jurisdictions, sexual orientation.

But another form of bias — openly discriminating against people who are unemployed — is perfectly legal. In a country where nearly 12 million people are jobless and another 14 million are underemployed, such discrimination is downright perverse.

That such discrimination exists wasn't common knowledge until a study came out earlier this year showing how widespread it is. The National Employment Law Project found that employers of all sizes explicitly refuse to consider hiring the unemployed — simply because they aren't working.

The study reviewed job postings that appeared on four of the nation's most prominent online job listing websites:,, and Craigslist.

It identified more than 150 ads that openly discriminated based on employment status. The overwhelming majority of the discriminatory ads required that applicants "must be currently employed."

In today's America, home to a shattered middle class and millions of homeowners in danger of foreclosure, there are many faces of the unemployed. There are millions of people whose unemployment benefits have expired — or will run out at the end of the year.

There are millions whose jobs have been shipped overseas and aren't coming back. And now, there are jobless Americans who can't get work precisely because they're out of work.

In response to the study's findings, USAction, later joined by, CREDO Action and, launched an online petition drive to demand an end to the discrimination, already signed by nearly a quarter of a million Americans.

And people are listening. announced this month that it will no longer post ads that discriminate against the unemployed. President Barack Obama included a provision to ban this kind of hiring discrimination in the jobs package he sent to Congress. And legislation is pending in both the House and the Senate that would make it illegal to refuse to consider hiring the jobless.

Of course, even if the practice of employment discrimination ended today, we still wouldn't have enough jobs in our country for those who need them.

The government should also extend federal unemployment insurance beyond 2011 and pass robust jobs legislation like Rep. Jan Schakowsky's Emergency Jobs to Restore the American Dream Act. The Illinois Democrat's bill would create two million public-sector jobs over the next two years.

It's time to put America back to work. We need jobs — good jobs, jobs that are available to all.

David Elliot is communications director for USAction, a grassroots advocacy group with affiliates and partners in 24 states.

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Richard Saunders September 19, 2011 | 6:03 p.m.

"Of course, even if the practice of employment discrimination ended today, we still wouldn't have enough jobs in our country for those who need them."

Funny, I was going to refute the entire premise of this article with that statement, yet the author did it himself.

See, kids, this is how political activism pollutes your mind. Regardless of intent, politics is evil. Don't fall victim to this practice! All you're doing is fighting for control of the gun (which enforces your law).

Oh, and another thing, "discrimination" isn't a bad word like you've been led to believe. All it means is to exercise your judgement, something you do a hundred times a day.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire September 19, 2011 | 7:09 p.m.

"See, kids, this is how political activism pollutes your mind. Regardless of intent, politics is evil. Don't fall victim to this practice!"

Funny, I was just going to tell you that but it appears that one of the morons you listen to on your hate radio already has.

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks September 19, 2011 | 9:03 p.m.

As a small business owner why would I want to hire someone that has been out of work for a long time. I would rather hire someone that has been out there working no matter the job. Mowing lawns, Stocking groceries, ect is all better then someone collecting assistance. Shows they have initiative and do not feel sorry for themselves or blame others.

You would be amazed at the number of "laborers" around town that are out of work. Painters, contractors, carpenters, tile layers. All have a skill and at one point had work as there was less competition and more work then the "good" workers could handle. Problem is now people are better with their money and will not just hire anyone. Pretty much if you were hear one of the guys listed above complaining about how bad the economy is in Columbia/Mid Missouri it most likely because they are sub par and burned too many bridges.

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum September 19, 2011 | 9:23 p.m.

As a small business owner*,* why would I want to hire someone that has been out of work for a long time*?* I would rather hire someone that has been out there working*,* no matter the job (sic). Mowing lawns, *s*tocking groceries, *etc* is all better *than* someone collecting assistance (sic). (Working) Shows (sic) they have initiative and do not feel sorry for themselves or blame others. AND SO ON AND SO FORTH.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire September 19, 2011 | 10:53 p.m.

Let's hope that he hires someone else to do his advertising.

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks September 19, 2011 | 11:14 p.m.

The beauty in this line of work is that there is no need to advertise. When I show up to the job I just have to tell the home owner that I am not Paul Allaire. WORKS EVERY TIME.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz September 19, 2011 | 11:21 p.m.

And all this drama is based upon 150 ads found online. The horror.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire September 20, 2011 | 1:48 a.m.

Just think of the horrors you would encounter had Corey Parks written the ads.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking September 20, 2011 | 3:57 a.m.

John has a point, though. What you don't see in the study is the total number of jobs the study looked at. If these 150 jobs were out of only a few thousand, this would be more troubling than if they were out of 100,000 or more.

A company might well be shooting itself in the foot by refusing to consider a person that was unemployed because he went back to school after losing a job, for example. I suspect most companies know that. Without knowing the total sample size of the online job survey, we don't know if this is a pervasive trend or just a few isolated instances.


(Report Comment)
Corey Parks September 20, 2011 | 7:17 a.m.

I apologize for the comment Paul. I know it is against the rules of the board to point out faults of individuals. If it gets deleted then so be it.

I will also point out that this 3rd rate message board is not a head hunting site and I was definitely not advertising for a new employee.
All my signage, letterhead, invoices, business cards and documents were all put together by professionals in their respective fields of work.

As an entrepreneur it is easy to want to do everything for yourself but where would that put you if everyone else did the same thing.

Getting back to the article. I think the laws and assistance the govt has been handing out for several years has made it easy for people to forget that most companies hire on skill sets and not what they used to do.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire September 20, 2011 | 10:31 a.m.

I like your comment about how you told them you weren't me. Funny stuff. As if someone would have thought otherwise...

But what did companies used to do? (hire people based on what?)

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire September 20, 2011 | 10:36 a.m.

And my thought is that if you were an electrical engineer or a media consultant whose company had gone out of business and you were mowing some lawns and painting houses while you looked for work, you probably wouldn't list that on your job history. You would say that you were unemployed. Well, at least I would. So I think this is a valid issue.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor September 20, 2011 | 11:20 a.m.

I applaud private companies like the one mentioned that refuse to post ads that say if you aren't currently employed, don't bother. However, government has no business in this matter of legal discernment...

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith September 20, 2011 | 11:31 a.m.

Based on my experience, here's how it can go.

Direct from college: They pay attention to your transcript and grades, as well as to your major and where you matriculated, because that's what there is to pay attention to.

First change of employers: Some attention still given to the items mentioned above, but more interest in skills gained during initial employment.

Subsequent employment changes: More and more emphasis placed on real or believed skills; little emphasis placed on formal education.

Final employment, OR being hired as a consultant: They may be in a bind (actually losing money). They don't give a damn where you went to school, what your grades were, etc. They may not even care whether you are professionally licensed. THEY ARE HOPING YOU CAN GET THEM OUT OF THE MESS THEY ARE IN! Unless you have been incarcerated for a major felony they don't pry into your personal life either. :)

Here's thought about "experience." It is possible for one person to work for, say, 15 years doing the same thing again and again for all 15 years. Another person, same educational background, works for 15 years but during that time sometimes does the same job the first person did but also gets experience doing a number of other jobs. Which is the more "experienced" person? (There isn't an absolutely correct answer. It depends partly upon what the prospective employer wants or believes he wants.)

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire September 20, 2011 | 12:44 p.m.
This comment has been removed.
Paul Allaire September 20, 2011 | 10:26 p.m.

I suppose my comment was a bit harsh. (the one that isn't here) My apologies.

(Report Comment)
Mike Frese September 20, 2011 | 11:38 p.m.

From this employer's perspective I prefer an applicant who has 1) been consistently employed (shows the person wants to work and needs to work, 2)few to no gaps in employment (see reason #1).

I will listen to people about why they have not been working if out of work for a while but they have to have a good story why. I only employ less than 10 people at any given time so if people do not work out if can be a huge problem.

The hiring process is the least favorite part of my responsibilities. Over my 20 years of hiring people, there has been a significant coorelation between those who keep consistent work and their level of work. We actually prefer to recruit people from other jobs.

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks September 21, 2011 | 8:11 a.m.

Mike Frese: The problem I see when I need a few people is that the ones that come in and catch on and are motivated and are great employees are the ones that are destined for better things and or take off and go out on their own. The ones that are just wanting a job are the ones that take their time, run late, have to be followed behind for quality control. Every winter I reevaluate if I should hire anyone at all.

(Report Comment)
frank christian September 21, 2011 | 9:09 a.m.

I believe this writer, David Elliott, is describing the "sub-culture" of permanently unemployable people said to have been formed by the record setting Length of unemployment associated with this recession. Length of this recession to be associated with the policies and programs of the Obama Administration.

I understand he addresses this problem in his new "jobs" bill. A new bureaucracy to assist unemployed in law suits against discriminating employers will certainly keep trial lawyers employed.

Hopefully none of the destructive "stuff" in his bill will see light of day due to the Republican take over of the House. If they had not, a D' controlled Congress would foist this much more damage on us without hesitation.

(Report Comment)

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