by Jon Lewin on March 1, 2012
Longterm unemployment has reached crisis levels in the United States. Since December 2009, the unemployment rate of the long-term unemployed—people who have been looking for work over six months—has remained above 40%. That’s nearly 1 in 2, compared to a current rate of 8.3% in the general American population.
The rate has not been so high since 1948, the first year this data was compiled. As of January, 5.5 million Americans had been searching for work for over six months. Four million of them had been looking for at least a year. The psychological, as well as financial, burdens that these individuals face are immense: they must cope with the daily stress of supporting their family on diminishing resources, as well as the stress of day after day of unsuccessful job searching. But the longterm unemployed have an additional burden, as well: they face a mounting bias against hiring them.
Over a dozen states are now debating legislation that would ban that practice and make discrimination against the unemployed illegal, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Some state proposals would only ban the wording in the ads, while others would expand existing discrimination laws to permit rejected job candidates to sue companies on the basis of bias against unemployment.
Action on this problem is long overdue. But it must take account that there is a fine line between employer bias against the long-term unemployed and legitimate concerns. Many employers say they don’t want to hire people who have been out of work for a while because they fear that their skills have atrophied. In some industries, particularly technology, that could well be the case. On the other hand, many unemployed people are well aware of the need to stay current and are taking classes or otherwise updating their skill sets.
There is no place for restrictive language in help-wanted ads. Level the playing field for all applicants. It’s bad enough if the long-term unemployed are excluded, but someone who got laid off last week has certainly not had time to atrophy.
Making long-term unemployment a protected status under which one could sue for discrimination might be more complicated. But banning discriminatory ads is a no-brainer.