Is there something wrong with the unemployed?

In an article in today’s Washington Post, it was reported that your odds of getting a call back for a job interview are much lower if you’ve been unemployed for 6 months or more. There could be several reasons for this that the article covers, including perceptions that long-term unemployed:

  • Have outdated skills
  • May take jobs out of necessity, only to quit when something better comes along
  • Might be lazy or unmotivated

Waiting in LineIt is enough of a problem that employers brazenly state in job advertisements that the unemployed need not apply. It is so widespread that many states are adopting new laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of current employment status.

Not everyone agrees

On the other side of the issue, opponents of these laws say that this could ultimately lead to lawsuits that push employers not to hire at all out of defensiveness. The New York Times reported Mayor Bloomberg of New York was against such laws:

But the measure has been criticized by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has called it “misguided” and intends to veto it. He and other opponents, including many business leaders, say that an employer has a right to consider what a person was doing before applying for a job, and that the legislation could spur numerous lawsuits by unsuccessful applicants and deter companies from hiring anyone at all. In a rare public split with Mr. Bloomberg, Ms. Quinn said she had enough support to override a mayoral veto.

Coming from France, I know from experience that laws about hiring and firing have made it harder to hire people and to take risk on employees that don’t fit the perfect mold. Laws don’t solve unemployment problems but they serve those employed very well…sometimes too well. My observation of the U.S. job market has been that while there are fewer worker protections, there are also fewer barriers to being hired after a short-term employment, being fired or unemployment. The freedom to hire and fire works benefits both employers and employees.

Changing times

But that starts to fall apart when the long-term unemployed can’t find work. Is that a scenario that needs government intervention? Should that intervention be in the form of laws or is the effort better spent offering incentives to employers or training for the unemployed? With 4.7 million Americans out of work for 27 weeks or more, this is a challenge that is worthy of discussion. What do you think?

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Categories: Workplace Reality

Author:Jeanne Roué-Taylor

I'm fascinated by disruptive technology and its impact on our world. I manage sales operations for an excellent startup with a unique team of highly experienced data scientists.

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8 Comments on “Is there something wrong with the unemployed?”

  1. April 22, 2013 at 8:33 am #

    It is very true that the longer you’re unemployed the less chance you have in getting looked at. It’s a ridiculous stigmatism invented by lazy headhunters. I agree that laws will make it worse so why doesn’t the government offer a tax break to companies that hire people who are unemployed for a year or more?

    • Paul
      April 25, 2013 at 9:57 am #

      Good point. There are other ways government can act to solve this problem.

  2. April 24, 2013 at 9:38 am #

    Here’s one thing that employers should consider when overlooking the long-term unemployed – a majority of whom is among the baby-boomer generation: the experience these people have stored over their working lives and which is bound to be gone once these individuals retire.
    Employers will soon be facing a talent vacuum, whether it is by (1) increased retirement or, (2) in the case of young professionals, turning in greater numbers to becoming entrepreneurs and masters of their own career path.
    HR officers need re-training to understand how their short-sighted hiring practices undermine the profitability of their company.

  3. Rachel Brennan
    April 25, 2013 at 3:52 am #

    A friend of mine is a corporate recruiter for Wall St. The candidate criteria coming from the firms typically state they would prefer those who had not been unemployed for over 3 months. I have always been interested in what the “real” (or if there was any) thought process behind that criteria was. I have to wonder if it is a little bit of “It is that way, and it will stay that way, because it has always been that way.”

  4. Paul
    April 25, 2013 at 10:02 am #

    What can unemployed people do to counter this? Does a volunteer job help fight this bias against them? Does enrolling in school to keep skills up help? Does learning a new skill help?

    I also don’t understand the “you are overqualified” part. The pay is less so the business is getting a higher skilled employee at a lower pay level. Isn’t there a benefit to this even if the person leaves in a year? And it can’t be a question of worker motivation. If I’m taking the job to pay my mortgage and eat, that’s a lot of motivation.

  5. May 26, 2013 at 7:42 am #

    Advice from a veteran recruiter: Don’t let a period between jobs look like inactivity. Do something. Learn something. Document it. There are in fact lots of reasons–some reasonable, others not–why employers have this prejudice against gaps, so think about how to counteract.

    • May 26, 2013 at 8:57 am #

      Tom, GREAT point. There are many opportunities to learn and gain experience between jobs.

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