Take a Chance on the Unemployed

02/15/2012 10:55 am ET | Updated Apr 16, 2012

The results of a United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection poll were just released and they are surprising to read. Americans appear to have mixed thoughts about helping their fellow Americans. For a country that prides itself on its generosity, this survey may indicate how secretly selfish we may be. If a discussion is to continue about the future of a social safety net, there must also be a discussion about what to do with those utilizing that safety net. It's time to talk about hiring the unemployed.

Let's face it: hiring any new employee is always risky. A candidate can tell you anything she wants as to why she is leaving her current organization (no room for growth, seeking more challenging work, etc.) in an effort to shed the best light on herself. That's obvious. Yet, for all you know, her boss was on the verge of firing her for a consistent lack of productivity. Although your organization tries to establish a process to mitigate hiring risks, it's never a perfect formula and your process may likely never uncover that she was a poor performer, but you'll hire her anyway because of her eager attitude and impressive titles.

If the circular file is not an official part of the selection process for unemployed resumes, being unemployed surely holds a negative bias in our collective brains. It is often equated to being lazy, lacking drive or having a preference to 'mooch' off the system. These are just a few characterizations and judging by the reaction of the audience at Republican debates in response to jabs by the candidates at the unemployed, many Americans agree with them.

It's time to throw out the stereotypes!

Today's "unemployed generation" is NOT lazy. It's frustrating to hear those who talk about a friend of a friend who once "loved being unemployed for 8 months." I don't love it and reading stories like these leads me to believe there are millions of others who don't either. I, like the millions of others, have gone from a credit score in the 800s to complete ruin through bankruptcy and foreclosure. We have applied to the online ads, attended the networking events, used social media and crafted multiple iterations of our resume based on each new blogger's opinion. There are even those of us attempting to gain additional skills. We're eager and ready to get back to work.

I can attest first-hand to the determination of the unemployed as a participant in the Chicago Career Tech program -- a retraining program that includes both classroom training and hands-on learning experience, initiated by former Mayor Richard M. Daley and supported by the business and non-profit communities of Chicago. My colleagues in this program are just like me and we all hang our hopes to this program to give us the valuable skills needed to meet the demand of today's workforce.

At first we were encouraged by the words of Shelley Stern, Citizenship Director for the Microsoft Corporation and Chair of the CCT Board of Directors, who recounted how CCT was born out of a realization by the business community that many jobs, including at Microsoft, were going unfilled over the past few years, despite high unemployment. This was not due to a lack of labor, clearly, but rather a lack of necessary skills on the part of that unemployed labor. This program seeks to supplement the already valuable skills possessed by the unemployed for high-demand industries.

Despite the efforts of CCT and our new skills obtained, we continue to find it difficult to land a position. The rejection continues for a lot of previous participants and despair is setting in. We ARE trying and we ARE being interviewed, but we continue to be told that we do not have enough or the "right" experience.

Instead of a discussion about removing or reducing the social safety net, thereby creating a deeper problem, let's talk about how we all can help Americans get back to work.

Here are my challenges: First, I challenge the president and Congress to re-enact the tax cuts to businesses for hiring the unemployed. Although we are no longer in an official recession, there are millions of Americans who have been unemployed longer than 8 months. That's an awfully long time to go without work when there are bills to pay and mouths to feed. This may help alleviate long-term joblessness. If it doesn't, businesses can no longer complain that they pay too much in taxes, if they pay them at all.

Next, I challenge the Republican nominees to do more than talk. They are out there each day shaking hands with the unemployed. Has one of them offered to put them in contact with their influential friends who are likely to be hiring managers with open positions? If they want us to vote for them and believe they are the one to get the country back to work, start showing us you have experience doing it.

Third, I challenge business owners, HR managers, hiring managers and decision-makers to re-think the old notion that someone who has been unemployed is lazy or unproductive. Take the risk; you may be pleasantly surprised with the results!

Finally, I challenge all Americans to help their fellow unemployed American. Patriotism isn't just putting up a flag on holidays and singing the National Anthem at sporting events. Patriotism is also supporting your fellow citizen. FDR wrote: "In our personal ambitions we are individualists. But in our seeking for economic and political progress as a nation, we all go up or else all go down as one people. "

President George W. Bush was criticized for not asking Americans to participate in the "war effort." So here's how you can participate in the "unemployment effort": Check your company's website to find out what positions are available. Post them to Facebook or Twitter (use #jobs, for example). Forward replies to your HR department. This is just one of many examples easily implemented and that helps move us all forward together.

Help a person, help a family, help the country, gamble on the unemployed!

Cross-posted from Reframe Shame.