President Obama has won the verbal commitments from more than 300 corporations to helping to hire many of to the nearly 4 million Americans who have been unemployed for half a year or more in an effort to curb chronic unemployment
“It’s a cruel Catch-22,” Obama said at a White House event with CEOs, job training groups and advocates for the unemployed. “The longer you’re unemployed, the more unemployable you may seem.”
Obama called that “an illusion” because, he said, such workers are often better qualified and better educated than workers who just recently lost their jobs.
In addition to convening CEOs and getting their hiring pledges, Obama also signed a presidential memo directing federal agencies not to discriminate against those long-term unemployed workers in its own hiring practices.
The number of people who have been unemployed for more than 27 weeks — statistics now state 3.9 million — is the highest in four decades. This statistic does not include Americans who had been looking for so long that they have given up. For policymakers, the number of such workers is particularly troublesome when it persists even as the economy grows.
“Just because you’ve been out of work for a while does not mean that you are not a hard worker,” Obama said. “Just means you had bad luck or you were in the wrong industry or you lived in a region of the country that’s catching up a little slower than others in the recovery.”
Even the Obama administration concedes that the outreach to companies has its limits.
“This is down payment,” Labor Secretary Tom Perez said. “When you’re talking about Fortune 100 companies, you’re talking about force multipliers and when you talk about force multipliers, you’re talking about helping thousands of people.”
Among the CEOs at the White House Friday were top executives from eBay, Morgan Stanley, Boeing, Marriott International and McDonald’s.
Among other companies taking part: Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and 21st Century Fox. Gene Sperling, who heads the White House’s National Economic Council, said he emailed the conservative business mogul about the initiative, and Murdoch personally wrote back to say he supported it.
Steps that firms committed to include doing away with candidate-screening methods that disqualify applicants based on their current employment status. It also means ensuring that job ads don’t discourage unemployed workers from applying.
The Obama administration will direct $150 million in grants toward partnership programs that retrain, mentor and place unemployed workers.