American Voices: George Wentworth


George Wentworth is a senior staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project.  

I graduated from college in the  1970s during a recession not unlike the one we’ve been experiencing for the past few years.

My first job out of college was working in my hometown unemployment office. And in some respects  it was difficult because I knew a lot of the people that I was paying unemployment checks to. And one of them, I remember, was my godfather, Frank, who had gotten laid off from one of the major manufacturing plants in town.

And I remember him coming in. He was just embarrassed to see me. And,over time, you know, he said, “I’ll be back to work.” But  he ended up being outta work for a long, long time. And it was just so painful to see the depression set in.

It was an experience that left an impression on me throughout my career.

Workers who are long-term unemployed have  a leg down because  employers are  in many instances not interested in  considering them after they’ve been out of work for a certain amount of time.

So, we’ve seen the phenomenon of discrimination  against the unemployed. Unemployed need not apply.

It really is  kind of a catch 22 when an employer says they’re only going to consider workers who are currently employed, so you have to have a job to get a job.

That’s why one of the initiatives,  that my organization  is very active in, is encouraging the adoption of policies that help low-income workers and unemployed workers.

Just last week, the New York City Council passed an ordinance that would prohibit discrimination against the unemployed in the hiring process.

Now, this doesn’t mean that an employer could not take into account the reason that somebody became unemployed. But what it does do is say that you can’t be excluded from the pool of candidates solely because you’re unemployed.

We need to, I think, invest more in quality reemployment services for unemployed workers, particularly long-term unemployed workers. ‘Cause it will really be a tragedy to lose their workers– and see them leave the labor market altogether. Everyone loses in that scenario.

What’s on this week:

Manufacturing jobs

Need to Know looks at Alabama’s efforts to train a new generation of shipyard workers to fight unemployment and attract business to the state

Interview: Peter Cappelli

Peter Cappelli, is the George W. Taylor Professor of Management at The Wharton School and Director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources and author of Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs: The Skills Gap and What Companies Can Do About It.

Tales from the “new normal”

Need to Know’s audience shares tales of seeking work in a “jobless recovery”. Tell us how you’re employment situation has changed and what you think can help — education, training, tax breaks?

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