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Should a bias against the unemployed be outlawed?

As readers in Detroit probably know, a great many people are out of work these days. These people face a double-barreled problem. First, there are not that many jobs to go around. Second, after an unemployed person finds a job, he or she might face a bias against people who are or have been out of work. While this practice has not yet been made explicitly illegal, arguments to categorize it as unacceptable discrimination are growing ever louder.

One woman, for instance, thought she had obtained a job as a bus driver only to be told by the recruiter the company was using that the job would not be hers after all because she had been unemployed for too long. Even if only a small number of employers embrace this hiring practice, it would be a huge problem. Nine percent of the people in our country who are looking for work do not have jobs and about 4.5 million people have been without employment for over a year.

Earlier this year, the National Employment Law Project conducted a study and found more than 150 online job posting that specified that qualified applicants would be those who were currently employed. The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission has begun to look into the matter and President Barack Obama has proposed legislation that would make this practice illegal.

Employment and labor professionals say employers pre-screen applications this way because they might be afraid that someone who has been out of work for too long is not employable or has let his or her skills atrophy. Specifying that someone must be "currently employed" to be considered for a job also weeds out some of the many, many people who are sure to apply for any available position.

On the other hand, this policy may be bad for our country because it keeps unemployed people unemployed and thus dependent on costly social programs and unable to pay taxes or boost the economy with their spending. It also has a very negative effect on our nation's black and Hispanic populations, since those groups have higher unemployment rates than do white people.

What do you think? Should the hiring practice of considering only those who are currently employed be prohibited, or do you think it makes sense?

Source: The Associated Press, "Unemployed seek protection against job bias," Sam Hananel, Oct. 9, 2011

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