This morning's New York Times has a story that sounds like something out of The Onion rather than the Old Grey Lady. It seems that a large number of unemployed Americans are finding it hard to get jobs specifically because they're unemployed. It's a big enough problem that New York City and some other states are trying to do something about it.
New York City appears likely to adopt a law that would allow unsuccessful job applicants to sue businesses who they believe hold their unemployment status against them in making hiring decisions. The measure is widely seen as the toughest step yet in a flurry of recent efforts by the Obama administration and elected officials in at least 18 states, including New York, to help the long-term unemployed.It's hard to believe that there would even be a need for laws like this. But then you find out about people like Albert Mango, who saw a "help wanted" sign at a diner. However, when he said he was unemployed, he was told there was no position available. Or Kevin Johnson, who got bombarded so often with questions about what he had been doing since being laid off from his cleaning-company job in September that he has to say he works off the books.
The District of Columbia passed a law last year that made it illegal for employers to refuse to consider or hire candidates because they were out of work, and barred advertisements from suggesting that the unemployed need not apply. Laws prohibiting discrimination in job listings have also been adopted by New Jersey and Oregon; a similar measure in California was vetoed by the governor.
Apparently this practice has become increasingly common lately. According to the National Employment Law Project, several companies post notices explicitly stating that the unemployed need not apply. New York City's proposed law would not only ban that practice, but would allow applicants to sue for discrimination. The city's Human Rights Commission could also slap fines of up to $250,000 on an offending employer.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has already threatened to veto the New York City proposal, saying that it's "misguided." Um, Mr. Mayor? Here's what's really "misguided." You've got people who are on the verge of losing their homes or apartments, can't put food on the table and are buried in debt because they can't get a job. And that puts more of a burden on city services. Plus, you'd think that Bloomberg, being a businessman, would realize it's downright silly to close the door on potential workers for something this picayune. While Bloomberg is right that employers should be able to consider what you've been doing before you apply, you have to draw the line somewhere. Council speaker Christine Quinn has already said that if Bloomberg vetoes this measure, she has more than enough support to override it. The law passed by a veto-proof margin of 44-4 (an override requires only 34 votes).