01/31/2014 06:00 am ET Updated Jan 31, 2014

White House Pushes Companies On Hiring Long-Term Jobless

WASHINGTON -- Business leaders have signed a White House pledge not to discriminate against hiring the long-term unemployed, President Barack Obama will announce on Friday.

The initiative is part of the president's "I have a pen" promise to use executive action to help the economy, without the cooperation of an often dysfunctional Congress. Even with a declining national jobless rate, the number of long-term jobless, at nearly 4 million, remains historically unprecedented. Recent studies have shown that part of the problem is companies not wanting to hire people with gaps in their resumes.

"It really is sad to hear the stories of people who almost had a job at three months, almost had a job at five months, and then suddenly they're unemployed seven or eight months and they can't even get an interview," White House economic adviser Gene Sperling told HuffPost on Thursday.

"Often inadvertently, companies put up screens or have built-in stigmas in their hiring practices that create a negative cycle for the long-term unemployed," Sperling said.

So the White House has asked companies to sign a "best practices" pledge that promises they will not to advertise jobs in a way that discriminates against the jobless. The pledge also asks firms to make sure their current practices don't inadvertently disadvantage unemployed people, and that they'll share tips internally and with other businesses on how to recruit from among the long-term jobless.

More than 300 companies have signed, according to a White House list, including 21 of the 50 largest U.S. firms by sales, among them Walmart and McDonald's.

It probably won't cure the problem of long-term unemployment, but the pledge makes the Obama administration look busy while Congress dithers. Long-term unemployment insurance -- one of the only federal policies targeting people unemployed six months or longer -- expired in December for 1.3 million workers, thanks to congressional inaction. Democrats have found no clear plan to revive the benefits.

Obama has long lamented discrimination against the jobless, a problem that received widespread attention in 2010 with dozens of job ads that stipulated applicants "must be currently employed." Researchers have verified that employers are less likely to call jobseekers whose resumes suggest they've been out of work.

As part of the ill-fated American Jobs Act in 2011, Obama proposed banning job ads that discourage the unemployed and giving spurned job-seekers a way to file claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Though it had Democratic support, the proposal didn't stand a chance in the Republican-led House of Representatives.

Sperling described how the president got from legislation to ban hiring discrimination against the jobless to Friday's pledge.

"He made very clear to us we can't be satisfied to be raising awareness about the problem and proposing strong legislation that's not going anywhere and think we've done enough," Sperling said.

On Tuesday, Obama said during his State of the Union address that he hoped "every business leader" would join "because we are stronger when America fields a full team."

The president first said he'd enlist CEO support in July. "I'm challenging CEOs from some of America's best companies to hire more Americans who've got what it takes to fill that job opening, but have been laid off so long no one will give their resume an honest look," Obama said at the time.

Click here to see the White House's best practices pledge and the companies that have signed.



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