Unemployment fell in February to 8.9 percent, and US companies added 192,000 people to their payrolls, but one category of workers is increasingly facing an overt form of discrimination.
In the bad old days of the 1800s, when it was legal for employers to discriminate against anyone they pleased, job postings used to say things like: "No Irish Need Apply." Now the unemployed, it seems, have become the new Irish: In advertisement after advertisement, employers come right out and tell them they're not wanted.
Right now CareerBuilder, one of the biggest job sites on the web, has a posting for an entry-level engineer. The candidate, it says, will perform structural analysis of telecommunications cell towers. A civil engineering degree is required, an undergrad GPA of at least 3.4 as is knowledge of AutoCAD. Some travel is required.
Oh, and there's one other thing: "No layoff candidates."
You heard right: If you've been laid off or are out of work, pal, scram -- this employer, like many others, doesn't want you. You're damaged goods.
Look anywhere where jobs are posted, and you'll see more examples. This discrimination isn't subtle. It's not covert. It's right out in the open, stated in the listings: A phone manufacturer looking to fill a marketing job stipulates "No unemployed candidates will be considered at all." An electronics firm looking for an engineer says it will "Not consider/review anyone NOT currently employed regardless of the reason." A Craigslist posting for an assistant restaurant manager in New Jersey says all applicants "Must be currently employed."
So prevalent is this new form of discrimination that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in February held hearings on it. The EEOC press release announcing them bore the catchy title "Out of Work? Out of Luck."
Testifiers included Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, a national nonprofit group that advocates on behalf of low-age and unemployed workers, and persons facing unfair or unlawful barriers to employment.
Owens says it's hard to know how widespread discrimination against the jobless has become, but she has seen human resource professionals widely quoted to the effect that turning away the unemployed is a growing trend.
As for the help wanted notices, "What you see stated in the advertisements is just the tip of the iceberg," Ownes says. "For every ad that's explicit, many more have the same policy but don't say so. We think it's widely happening and that it's grounds for concern, especially in an economy where job growth is so slow and so many qualified people are looking for work. It imposes an artificial and arbitrary barrier that job seekers shouldn't have to deal with."
She cited in her EEOC testimony the case of a Texas job seeker, an experienced pharmaceutical sales rep, who received from an executive recruiter an e-mail stating one express caveat: "Candidates must be currently employed or must have left the industry within the last six months."
In the 2½ years that Kelly Wiedemer, 45, has been out of work, she's received this kind of brush-off more than once.