Only the Employed Need Apply? CBC Rep Says That Oughta Be Illegal

Reps. Hank Johnson and Jesse Jackson, Jr., drop bill to ban hiring bias against people already out of work.

By Shani O. Hilton Mar 21, 2011

It’s now widely known that the longer people have been unemployed, the harder it is to get a new job. According to stats released by the Department of Labor: "People who have been out of work for five weeks have a monthly re-employment rate of about 31 percent. People who have been out of work for a year have a monthly re-employment rate of 8.7 percent."

Georgia House Democrat Hank Johnson* says that’s not coincidental. Employers are discriminating against those who are out of work, they say, and there ought to be a law against that kind of thing. So they’ve introduced the Fair Employment Act of 2011, which would amend the Civil Rights Act and ban hiring discrimination based on current employment status.

In a statement, Johnson says, "Discrimination against the unemployed smacks of days gone by when signs read, ‘women need not apply,’ ‘Irish need not apply’ or ‘no Blacks allowed.’ I’m going to do all I can to fight for the unemployed."

Long-term joblessness is at historic levels–more than six million people have been out of work for at least six months; as of February, the average jobless person had been out of work for 37 weeks. That’s primarily because of the much-discussed jobless recovery. There were 2.8 million new jobs in January for 13.9 million unemployed people, according to an Economic Policy Institute report this month. That’s a 5-to-1 ratio, which has existed for almost two years, EPI says. Jobs are hard to come by.

But anecdotal evidence of would-be employers shying away from jobless applicants has been circulating since the recession began. A recent Huffington Post story offered a window into employers’ thinking on the matter. One human resources manager told the site:

"It’s our preference that they currently be employed," he said. "We typically go after people that are happy where they are and then tell them about the opportunities here. We do get a lot of applications blindly from people who are currently unemployed — with the economy being what it is, we’ve had a lot of people contact us that don’t have the skill sets we want, so we try to minimize the amount of time we spent on that and try to rifle-shoot the folks we’re interested in."

While these employment policies may not be quite as severe as Jim Crow-era "no blacks allowed" laws, as Rep. Johnson suggests, they may have the same effect in the long run–black Americans currently have the highest rates of unemployment in the country, at over 15 percent.

*A previous version of this post incorrectly reported that Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. is a co-sponsor of the bill.