Unemployed Need Not Apply

Losing your job is hard enough. And with mounting claims of recruiters refusing to hire the unemployed, finding new work may be the hardest job of all -- especially if you are black.

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Other experts testified that screening out unemployed job candidates not only is ineffective but, particularly in the context of a significant jobs crisis, also disproportionately affects groups hit hardest by unemployment.

"When employees exclude the unemployed from the applicant pool, they are more likely to be excluding Latinos and African Americans from consideration because Latinos and African Americans have much higher unemployment rates," said William Spriggs, assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Labor.

While overall unemployment is 9 percent, the jobless rate is 15.7 percent among blacks and 11.9 percent among Latinos -- disparities that persist regardless of educational attainment. African Americans are also overrepresented among the long-term unemployed, who are perhaps in the worst shape in terms of job consideration, accounting for 22 percent of people who have been out of work for more than a year.

"The chances of considering an ethnic- or racial-minority applicant are decreased by one-third when one excludes unemployed workers from the applicant pool," said Spriggs, adding that the practice is also likely to limit opportunities for older workers and people with disabilities. The unemployed are "not a protected group, so the jurisdiction from the Department of Labor is questionable, but the potential for disparate impact is there."

Don't Believe the Hype?

There were some doubters in the room, however, about the extent of the problem. According to Fernan Cepero, state director of the New York State Society for Human Resource Management, which represents human resources professionals and recruiters, the practice is far from common.

"SHRM is unaware of a widespread practice or trend to exclude unemployed individuals from consideration for available jobs," Cepero said. In his experience, employers are focused on finding the right people for the job and consider all qualified applicants.

While he maintained that exclusionary policies are poor business practice, Cepero acknowledged that they may occur because of an employer's particular need. "When choosing an employee, HR and hiring managers are making a decision based on business necessity for certain skills," he said. "A candidate who has been out of the work force for a time may have skills that are stale and obsolete compared with a candidate whose skills are fresh."

James Urban, a partner at Pittsburgh's Jones Day law firm, which provides counsel for more than half of the Fortune 500 companies, likewise said that he has never experienced an employer that ruled out unemployed applicants. "Are periods when an applicant has been unemployed scrutinized? They most certainly are," he said, "but not with any intention of discriminating against any one person or group of people."

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