‘Unemployed’ Doesn’t Mean ‘Unemployable’

In any recession, from any era, unemployed workers face challenges that are unique to the time but consistent across history. Finding new work is never easy, but during a recession the search can prove almost impossible, as greater numbers of unemployed workers fight over fewer available jobs. For example, at the peak of the current downturn, around seven unemployed workers existed for every open position. Though this 7-1 ratio has since improved to 4-1, the outlook remains bleak and the unemployed still struggle.

Making matters worse, the severity and structural nature of the current downturn means many jobs are gone for good, and idled workers need all the help they can get when finding new work.

Some employers, however, disagree, and have even begun refusing to consider the unemployed for open positions. We believe this insidious new policy stands out as a particularly inexplicable and inexcusable form of discrimination, and legislators should act immediately to stop the practice in its tracks.

“Unemployed need not apply.” “Only candidates who are currently employed will be considered.” This language, lifted directly from readily available online job postings, is collected and presented in a recent National Employment Law Project report outlining the extent of unemployment discrimination. As explained in the report, a startling number of businesses want nothing to do with unemployed applicants, presenting a terrible catch-22 in which workers must have a job in order to get a job.

The general public, not surprisingly, strongly opposes such discrimination. The vast majority describe the refusal to consider unemployed job applicants as “very unfair” (80 percent) or “somewhat unfair” (10 percent), and nearly two-thirds favor legislation making “it illegal for companies to refuse to hire or consider a qualified job applicant solely because the person is currently unemployed.” We concur.

As California’s legislators return from the Memorial Day weekend, they’ll get their chance to weigh in when AB 1450 (Allen) comes up for a vote on the Assembly floor. This bill would prohibit employers, employment agencies and recruiting websites from openly advertising such discrimination policies. The bill also prohibits corporations and hiring agencies from refusing to consider unemployed workers simply because those workers are unemployed.

Bill author Assemblymember Michael Allen (D – Santa Rosa) was careful, however, to explicitly protect an employer’s right to both inquire about an applicant’s work history and base employment decisions on that history. The bill states that “…this chapter does not preclude an employer…from…refusing to offer employment to a person because of the reasons underlying an individual’s employment status.” In other words, the only businesses affected are those that discriminate based on employment status alone, while those who consider “the reasons underlying” employment status will remain unaffected.

As the downturn fades and economic vitality returns, let’s leave unemployment discrimination behind as a bad memory unique to this recession, and let's instead help unemployed workers secure both good jobs and a bright future. We believe AB 1450 offers legislators a clear choice between the irrational belief that these workers are somehow undesirable and the notion that those without jobs are still worth considering.

Simply put, unemployed doesn’t mean unemployable. Now there’s a concept worth considering.