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Rebecca DixonBack to OpinionRebecca Dixon

Bigger hurdles, than dismal job growth for unemployed

Ashley Perkins, of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., stands in line with military veterans on June 26, 2012, in Detroit. The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits fell last week, but the level of applications remains too high to signal a pickup in hiring. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Across the nation, unemployed Americans suited up and headed to hundreds of job fairs in June, promoted by the U.S. Labor Department as “American Job Fair Month.”

Imagine that you, an unemployed worker, have waited in a long line for hours to get into a job fair, but when you finally reach the door, you’re turned away. Your rejection has nothing to do with your qualifications or even your attire. The attendant takes one look at your resume and points to a sign on the door that reads “Unemployed need not apply.”

Sounds crazy, right? But a version of this scenario is playing out for a nation of job hunters, online and elsewhere, every day. Numerous job ads posted on some of the nation’s premiere job search websites state that only people who are currently employed will be considered.

“No unemployed candidates will be considered at all,” said a marketing job posting from a global phone manufacturer in Georgia. We will “not consider/review anyone NOT currently employed regardless of the reason,” read an ad by a Texas electronics firm seeking an engineer. And a California job ad for an experienced travel agent posted this March on Craigslist, explicitly states “only those currently employed need apply.”

Out of work job seekers began speaking up about this problem last year, describing these kinds of restricted job postings. One study that sampled online job posts for a few weeks unearthed more than 150 “unemployed-need-not-apply” job ads across a wide range of industries, in what may be only the tip of the iceberg. With 12.7 million Americans currently unemployed, this practice has far-reaching consequences for our nation’s unemployed and their families.

Unemployed workers already face an incredibly tough job market without these barriers. Despite recent job gains, there are still more than three times as many unemployed workers as there are job vacancies. Given these odds, it’s no surprise that long-term unemployment—defined as out of work for more than six months—is at a crisis level, affecting more than 4 in 10 unemployed Americans. Worse still, nearly one in three unemployed workers has been out of work for a year or more.

Disturbingly, advanced levels of education are not insulating workers from long-term unemployment. A worker with a doctorate is as likely to be long-term unemployed as a worker with a high-school diploma.

Some employers justify the exclusion of the unemployed by labeling these workers as damaged goods. Employers may feel that their skills have deteriorated, or speculate that they were let go because of poor job performance. But this reading misses the mark. The simple fact is that the recession and its aftermath swept away the jobs of millions of hardworking Americans who are hungry for a fair chance of getting back to work.

Fortunately, a few states are leading the way in enacting prohibitions against unemployment discrimination. New Jersey and Oregon have outlawed discriminatory ads. In March, the District of Columbia was the first jurisdiction to outlaw the practice of discrimination against the unemployed in hiring outright rather than just outlawing the ads. Similar bills were under consideration in 19 other states this year.

The practice of refusing to accept job applications from the unemployed does not currently violate any federal laws, but there is movement within both houses of Congress to change that. The Fair Employment Opportunity Act would make it unlawful for employers and job recruiters to exclude the unemployed from consideration simply because of their unemployment status. Congress should act immediately to pass the bill and remove this unnecessary barrier for unemployed workers.

The Labor Department recently reported that the economy added 80,000 jobs in June. As the economy improves, unemployed workers will hopefully have a better chance of finding work, but not if employers shut them out of the application process indiscriminately. Excluding currently-unemployed workers from new job openings is unfair and should not be tolerated.