Are you failing to look at the long-term unemployed?

New research is corroborating a long-held anecdote that those individuals who have been out of work for a considerable time are less desirable by hiring managers and recruiters. As a staffing professional, do you ask yourself why you may be passing up a person who is part of the massive group of Americans who fall under the long-term unemployed category?

Who are the long-term unemployed?

According to the latest report from the U.S. Department of Labor, in March 2013, there were 4.6 million people who were classified as long-term unemployed (those workers who have been jobless for 27 weeks or more). Those 4.6 million make up 39.6 percent of the total unemployment number. Sadly, new research is indicating that employers will rarely, if ever, consider hiring from this large pool of candidates.

But, who are these long-term unemployed individuals? According to a 2010 Congressional Research Service report titled, “The Trend in Long-Term Unemployment and Characteristics of Workers Unemployed for More than 99 Weeks,” men and women are almost as likely to remain out of work for more than 99 weeks – 7.9 percent and 7.6 percent, respectively. Older workers also made up a larger portion of the demographic. The report states that unemployed workers who are 45 years old and older are 10.7 percent more likely to remain that way for more than 99 weeks, in contrast to those workers under the age of 35 at 6 percent. Unemployed workers of all education levels were equally likely to have been looking for new job opportunities for more than 99 weeks.

How hard is it for the long-term unemployed to find work?

An experiment previously mentioned above by Rand Ghayad of Northeastern University recently demonstrated just how hard it would be for someone who had been out of work for an extended period of time to get a job. Ghayad sent out 4,800 fake resumes at random for 600 job openings. He found that employers would rather call back a worker who had no relevant experience compared to one that had been out of work for longer than six months. While this is a simplified run down of Ghayad’s findings, it is interesting to consider.

As a recruitment professional, you and I may want to ask ourselves what value we are placing on recent employment and how it could be impacting our staffing decisions. Are there entire markets of workers who could fit a client’s needs that are being overlooked?

There is the rational fear that a worker who has been out of a job for over six months was let go by his or her previous employer because of outdated skills or is a professional liability. However, couldn’t an in-depth search into a worker’s qualifications and past with the use of recruiting software allow you to decrease the risk of this occurring?

Some recruiters are even warning the long-term unemployed away from submitting resumes. Kim Keough lost her job in July 2008. She told The Washington Post that she believed she would be out of work for a few months at most – more than three years later she is still looking for a new job.

“Recruiters have told me not to bother sending in a resume if I’m not currently employed,” Keough told the news source. “It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t…The longer you are out of work, the more discriminatory companies get.”

In addition, could the trend of skipping over those candidates who have been out of work for a significant period have a long-term structural impact on the employment market? It just might. The Washington Post reports that dozens of states are considering legislation that would make it illegal for employers to discriminate against those who are long-term unemployed. While these proposals have not managed to pass, it’s interesting to note that New Jersey currently has a law that protects the long-term unemployed, and it’s only brought one company to action.

It will be interesting to see how the industry develops and if marketplace changes will have an impact on recruiting and hiring trends. To that end, I’d like to ask you staffing and recruiting professionals a few questions: Do you know of someone who has been discriminated against in this way? Are you using any means to seek out and re-employ this group? What other practical advice or suggestions could you offer to help solve this employment issue?

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