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Unemployed complain they need a job to find a job

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NEW YORK — It’s a frustrating catch for those out of work in an era of high unemployment: looking for a job, only to find that some employers don’t want anyone who doesn’t already have one.

After four years of above-average joblessness in the U.S., efforts to bar such practices by employers have met with mixed results.

While New Jersey, Oregon and Washington, D.C., have made it illegal to discriminate against the unemployed, New York City’s billionaire-businessman mayor vetoed Friday what would have been the most aggressive such measure in the country. Similar proposals have stalled in more than a dozen other states and Congress.

Advocates for the unemployed say such hiring practices are unfair. Businesses say the extent of such practices is exaggerated, hiring decisions are too complicated to legislate, and that employers could end up defending themselves against dubious complaints.

More than 1 in 3 unemployed workers has been looking for at least six months, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

An October 2011 search of New York City-based job listings found more than a dozen that explicitly required candidates to be employed, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s office said. A broader review that year by the National Employment Law Project found 150 ads that were restricted to or aimed at people currently working.

Experts say employers might think that unemployed applicants’ skills have atrophied, that they lost their jobs because of their own shortcomings, or that they will jump at any job offer and leave
as soon as something better comes along.

But “‘don’t apply, don’t even try’ is the opposite of American values,” New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said when the measure passed last month. She said Friday that she expects the city council will override Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s veto within a month.

Bloomberg called the measure a well-intended but misguided effort that would create more lawsuits than jobs.

“Hiring decisions frequently involve the exercise of independent, subjective judgment about a prospective employee’s likely future performance,” he said in a statement. And unlike other characteristics that employers are generally banned from considering, “circumstances surrounding a person’s unemployment status may, in certain situations, be relevant to employers when selecting qualified employees,” he said.

New Jersey in 2011 became the first state to outlaw the practice. The state Labor Department has gotten one complaint so far and cited a company for an ad that excluded jobless applicants; the case is not yet resolved.

Oregon and the District of Columbia followed suit last year, while 15 other states considered similar proposals, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed such a measure in California last fall, indicating he wasn’t happy with changes made to it.

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