Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Discrimination Against the Unemployed

A case can be made that chronic unemployment is the biggest problem facing both the US and many other countries around the world, especially the ones in Europe who are experiencing record unemployment levels lead by Spain and Greece at about 26% which are similar to the levels experienced in the Great Depression of the 1930s. 

And as high as the levels that are posted by governments, most agree that these numbers are understated since they don’t include those who have been forced to accept part time work instead of the full time work they are seeking, or those who are underemployed, or those who have given up in despair looking for work. For those who are not in the above categories, it is safe to say that most of us know of a loved one or friend who is struggling.
And make no mistake about it – it is a struggle, not just monetarily but with one’s self-esteem that often can lead to depression! So with all of that these people go through, surely we wouldn’t want to subject them to discrimination on top of all of that – but unfortunately, some people do!

When I heard stories about companies who refused to accept job applications from the unemployed, I couldn’t believe it! Just a bad joke or somebody got their facts wrong, I thought. But it’s true! Check out this link.

With the average length of unemployment steadily increasing, the requirement of being presently or even recently employed disqualifies millions of perfectly qualified job seekers. A recent Paul Krugman NYT op-ed, The Jobless Trap actually sites a recent study that supports this discrimination.
[A]s William Dickens and Rand Ghayad of Northeastern University recently showed, the relationship has broken down for the long-term unemployed: a rising number of job openings doesn’t seem to do much to reduce their numbers. It’s as if employers don’t even bother looking at anyone who has been out of work for a long time. 
To test this hypothesis, Mr. Ghayad then did an experiment, sending out résumés describing the qualifications and employment history of 4,800 fictitious workers. Who got called back? The answer was that workers who reported having been unemployed for six months or more got very few callbacks, even when all their other qualifications were better than those of workers who did attract employer interest.
So we are indeed creating a permanent class of jobless Americans.
It seems to me that someone who has been out of a job longer is going to be more motivated to perform well once they are rehired. But I guess I don’t have the mindset of the geniuses who run HR departments who equate long term unemployment with being lazy or just damaged goods because nobody else wanted to hire them.

Such a policy is not only stupid, but is downright cruel! If I for example had food to share, refusing to share it with the hungriest would obviously be considered to be cruel. But since most of us need a job to get food, is denying a job to a qualified applicant just because he or she has been out of work for too long any different?

Most of us would never do something this cruel to others because we know that the same situation could befall us and wouldn’t want to suffer in the same way. But there are enough others for whom empathy is not a strong point. Maybe they feel that those who have lost their jobs just aren’t as smart or well educated or hard working and that it couldn’t happen to them. In today’s miserable economy, that is little more than a denial of reality!

But wait, there’s more! For those who have been unemployed long enough to where they have been unable to keep up with bills, companies are now discriminating against job applicants based on credit histories.
About 60 percent of employers use credit checks to screen applicants, even though research has shown that people with damaged credit are not automatically poor job risks. Besides, the credit agencies that compile and sell records on about 200 million Americans make mistakes.
But the biggest elephant in the room may well be age discrimination. As someone who was unemployed and on the wrong side of 50, friends were telling me that this would work against me. I didn’t believe them. But after endless rejections for jobs that I was eminently qualified for and then reading this article in Fortune, 50 and Fired the anvil that fell on my head finally got my attention.
Getting fired during your peak earning years has always been scary. You'd scramble for a few months, but you'd find something. Today it's different. Get fired and you can scramble for years--and still find nothing. Welcome to the cold new world of the prematurely, involuntarily retired.
What makes this more alarming is that this article was written back in 2005, well before the Great Recession that started in 2008. So for those of us who are older, out of work, and falling behind in paying bills – we have little more than to hope for a miracle. It shouldn’t be this way. Many of us have so much to give – but we have been relegated to the scrap heap!

While some say that we should have laws that address these forms of discrimination, the truth is that such laws are for the most part unenforceable because it is difficult to prove intent. We presently have laws in the US that make age discrimination illegal but especially with the understaffing of government enforcement agencies that should serve as a watchdog, offending companies know they have little to fear.

Stripping this all to its essentials, what we have is too many qualified workers seeking far too few available jobs. When this happens, employers can become more and more selective to where things get out of hand. The only way this will change is when there are an adequate number of jobs that need to be filled which will require employers to be more reasonable with their requirements.

Experience has shown that increased government spending to create more jobs has worked, most notably the spending on World War II that effectively ended the Great Depression. Of course we don’t need another war – we have a decaying infrastructure that needs to be repaired and upgraded. And as cited at the beginning, the present unemployment woes of much of Europe have shown that decreasing government spending to try and balance budgets have made things far worse for them.

So which path will it be for the US? We can continue to follow the path of disaster that Europe is following but now even they are starting to reconsider the notion that cutting government spending will create jobs instead of destroying them. In the US, we have the land of the sequester where the debate seems to be little more than how much to cut rather than if we should cut.

It was comedian Stephen Colbert who recently commented in his best mock serious tone that "We have to keep cutting the government budget and laying off people until those people get jobs." While this was meant to be funny, what is sad is that too many people in the position of power and wealth really believe this!