WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration is following up on its January pledge to help the long-term jobless.
A big part of that pledge was getting businesses to agree they wouldn't discriminate against job applicants who had big gaps on their resumes, something research revealed to be a common practice. The pledge is largely symbolic, since the White House can't force companies to follow through.
Vice President Joe Biden and Labor Secretary Tom Perez on Wednesday will meet with hiring honchos from some of the 300 companies that agreed to "best practices" that discourage discrimination against the long-term jobless.
During a Tuesday afternoon call with reporters, Perez said a summit at the White House earlier this year, where companies signed the pledge, was “one of the most extraordinary events” he’s participated in.
“Employers large and small came together and demonstrated a willingness to expand their talent pool, recognizing it was the right thing to do for people who have been down with their luck, but also it was the smart thing to do for employers,” Perez said.
The Labor Department also announced Wednesday it is awarding $170 million worth of grants for projects designed to help the long-term jobless get back to work. The grants are going to partnerships between local governments, businesses, and nonprofits.
In a fact sheet previewing Wednesday's event and the grants, the White House trumpeted the decline in the number of long-term jobless, which has fallen by 900,000 since December to 3 million. Economists debate whether the decline is the result of unemployed people finding jobs or discontinuing their work search, since people who haven't sought jobs within four weeks of the government's monthly survey don't count as unemployed.
The White House suggested its efforts have resulted in some actual hiring, saying rural phone company Frontier Communications has hired 250 long-term jobless since January, amounting to 20 percent of all its hires in that time. The White House also said the Office of Personnel Management is implementing new procedures ensuring no undue disadvantage to unemployed people seeking government jobs.
Asked if there’s still hope that Congress will extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless -- which lawmakers allowed to expire in December -- Perez said he’s had conversations with people in the Senate "very recently" about moving that package.
“The president by no means is giving up,” Perez said, pinning the chances of the legislation passing on House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). “The Senate has already acted in a bipartisan fashion. Leader Boehner, in a New York minute, could do the same during the lame duck session.”
There's little chance of that happening. Boehner recently lamented a "just sit around" mentality among the unemployed. With the national unemployment rate tumbling to 5.9 percent, the problem of joblessness is largely off the congressional radar.