President Obama has solicited the assistance of big business to address growing concerns about the plight of the long-term unemployed. The group is experiencing discrimination in record amounts. With nearly 4 million Americans dealing with long-term joblessness, unemployed discrimination could have a significant impact on the American labor force.

Recently, the President hosted a gathering of several corporate executives representing the largest companies in the nation. These companies have agreed to revamp their hiring practices and screening processes specifically to combat long-term unemployed discrimination. A set of best practices, drafted by White House officials and economists, will serve as a guide in the effort.

Making the Case for the Long-Term Unemployed

Long term unemployment, unemployment that extends for six months or more, has become an issue for workers in every industry and pay scale across the nation. While the national unemployment rate has seen recent progress, this fact sometimes overshadows the growing number of workers left without job prospects afters months, or even years, of searching.

While many employers may not be aware that long-term unemployment is an issue, some are participating in the discrimination in outright ways. Workers report being turned away from jobs as soon as employers find out about their joblessness, and cite the plethora of job advertisements requiring employment as a condition of hiring or stating, “unemployed need not apply”.

Studies have also highlighted the increasing difficulties for the long-term unemployed. One study involving 4800 dummy resumes sent to job postings, found that applicants with longer rates of unemployment only managed to receive callbacks 1-3% of the time, compared to 7 percent for those who had been unemployed for a month or less. Another study found that long-term unemployed applicants were 20% less likely to receive interview requests.

Long Term Unemployment Bias Cripples Job Chances for Several Groups

Bias against the long-term unemployed has been a growing issue since the recession hit in 2008. Employers cite the erosion of job skills over time as one of the main reasons for refusals to hire, but stereotypes are also an issue.

Many employers feel that workers who experience long-term joblessness should have to justify why they have been out of work for so long. Some automatically assume long-term joblessness is evidence of a poor work ethic, low productivity or character flaws.

Those hardest hit are groups already set back by historic cycles of discrimination. Women of color, African-Americans, the disabled and the poor suffer most when employers exclude on the basis of unemployment status and duration.

States Address Discrimination Against the Long-Term Unemployed

Some states have addressed the discrimination experienced by the long-term unemployed by enacting new laws which prohibit the practices. New Jersey became the first state to do so, followed by Oregon. Over 25 more states have at least considered such anti-unemployed discrimination legislation, California included.

In New York City, the long-term jobless may soon be able to bring a job discrimination suit in a private cause of action if they suspect a prospective employer has used bias in a hiring decision. A bill introduced by city legislators has already been passed by the New York City Council.

Law is already in place in the District of Columbia where legislators added the unemployed as a protected class under the Unemployed Anti-Discrimination Act of 2012, enacted on May 31, 2012. The District of Columbia Office of Human Rights division is currently in charge of investigations under the Act.

President Obama’s 2012 jobs bill, the American Jobs Act, also addressed discrimination against the unemployed and, like the Unemployed Anti-Discrimination Act, included the unemployed as a protected class on equal footing with traditional protected classes like race, color and national origin. Though the bill passed in the House, it failed to proceed past the Republican-controlled Senate where a filibuster blocked its progress just one month after the President unveiled it.

Fair Employment Opportunity Act of 2014 Would Outlaw Unemployed Discrimination

Yet another federal bill addressing discrimination against the unemployed has been introduced in the House, however. The Fair Employment Opportunity Act would prohibit discrimination based on unemployment status and extend to both private companies and employment agencies. A similar bill was introduced in 2011. The bill’s sponsors noted the “perverse catch-22” which plagues the unemployed when looking for work that already excludes the group on the basis of long-term joblessness.

The bill focuses on a worker’s past or present unemployment, placing no restrictions on the length of time the unemployment has occurred. Specifically, an employer could not:

(1) fail or refuse to consider for employment, or fail or refuse to hire, an individual as an employee, because of the individual’s status as unemployed; (2) publish in print, on the Internet, or in any other medium, an advertisement or announcement for an employee or (3) direct or request that an employment agency take an individual’s status as unemployed into account in considering, screening, or referring applicants for employment as an employee.

Labor Market Benefits with Anti-Unemployed Discrimination Measures In Place

Evidence mounts that discrimination against the unemployed is an issue that continues to frustrate those looking for work in an already tough job market. Still, some economists and legislators are not yet convinced that it’s a concern big enough to get employers’ attention. However, the President’s efforts could pay off, with some of the nation’s largest corporations on board to change their ways. Clearly, the labor market only benefits when discrimination is not tolerated in employment, whether workers are currently employed or still in search of a job.