If treating every job applicant equally really were the no-brainer we think it should be, we wouldn't have the chronic unemployment we currently face. When someone is downsized, in the real world, that doesn't make him or her suddenly less qualified to work. But we're not in the real world right now. Many people are in the unusual world of finding a job in the economy we have today, and that means if you're not already in a job, many employers don't want to talk to you.
Consider this from the Huffington Post (June 4, 2010):
Ads asking the unemployed not to apply are easy to find. A Craigslist ad for assistant restaurant managers in Edgewater, N.J. specifies, "Must be currently employed." Another job posting for a tax manager at an unnamed "top 25 CPA firm" in New York City contains the same line in all caps.
A company's choice to ignore unemployed applicants and recycle the current workforce ignores the effect of the recession on millions of highly-qualified workers and could prolong the unemployment crisis, said Judy Conti, federal advocacy coordinator for the National Employment Law Project.
"Could prolong the crisis" is an understatement. That's why I'm a proud co-sponsor of Rep. Hank Johnson's Fair Employment Act of 2011 (H.R. 1113), which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to protect against discrimination on the basis of unemployment status.
Rep. Johnson can explain his bill better than I can, but let me just say this: this is more than just a civil rights issue. It's a question of improving our economy and making sure we don't create a permanent crop of economic second class citizens. It would be sheer foolishness for the government to allow companies to discriminate against the currently unemployed -- the downturn we're still clawing our way out of has meant many people are out of work through no fault of their own, and if we condemn them to permanent unemployment because of a superstition that they're less capable employees, we'll all suffer for it.
Please tell anyone you know that some of us in Congress aren't going to let this issue slide. The Economic Policy Institute estimated last year that there were 5.5 job seekers for every available job nationwide. We need to do more to create real jobs and real economic growth rather than slashing and burning our way through the federal budget, but that's another story. Right now, we need to keep our eye on the fact that many of those job seekers were productively employed for years or decades before they started looking.
If we think those people are just the losers in a tough economy, we're really turning our back on the notion of economic recovery. Today's job seekers are our neighbors, family members, friends and even our community leaders. Allowing companies to treat them differently when making hiring decisions doesn't make sense, and Congress should say so. That's why I support this bill, and that's why I thank Rep. Johnson today for his leadership.