Dale McFeatters: A Catch-22 in the labor market

By Dale McFeatters

Scripps Howard News Service

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 28 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

In this file photograph taken June 23, 2010, Frank Wallace who has been unemployed since May of 2009, displays his frustration during a rally organized by the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, in Philadelphia.

Matt Rourke, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

The labor market has always had one particularly frustrating conundrum: Young would-be workers say that employers won't hire them because they lack experience, but without that job they can't get experience.

Now older workers are encountering a similar frustration: Unemployed workers desperately want jobs, but employers won't hire them because they are unemployed.

The rule has always been that it's easier to get a job if you already have one, and that seems truer than ever now. But three years of layoffs, plant closings, downsizings and high unemployment means that there are many workers who don't have that advantage and, moreover, have been out of work for a long time.

And the cruel fact seems to be that the longer workers are out of a job the more reluctant employers are to hire them. Since 2009, more than 40 percent of unemployed workers have been out of work six months or longer.

The Wall Street Journal reports that some companies explicitly advertise that they won't hire someone who isn't employed. As a result, according to the Journal, more than a dozen states are considering making it illegal to discriminate against the unemployed. An unsuccessful job candidate who thought he had been bypassed on those grounds could sue under a law similar to those that ban discrimination based on race, religion, gender or national origin.

This is not a problem that should have to be solved by another layer of laws. There are areas of the country where there has simply been no work available for several years; and, for family or other reasons, many willing and able workers have been unable to pack up and move in search of a job.

Surely America's employers are sharp enough to discern the difference between a willing worker who has been a victim of bad times and someone who is unenthusiastically going through the motions simply to keep qualifying for unemployment benefits.

Hiring someone who has been looking hard for a long time but to no avail will get the employer an invaluable but intangible benefit — gratitude.

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