Hiring the Long-Term Unemployed

Although Employment Security reports that Washington State now has more jobs than before the recession started, we know there are far too many people this economy has left behind: the long-term unemployed.

As employers, we are missing out on talented and experienced workers who were sidelined during the recession. That needs to change!

Who are the long-term unemployed?

hiring the long-term unemployedThe numbers are disheartening. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that:

  • 2.2 million people have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more, accounting for 28% of the unemployed
  • Of those 2.2 million people, 19% have been unemployed for over a year

Those numbers don’t even take into account the 585,000 discouraged Washington workers who have entirely stopped looking, believing there are no jobs available to them.

Washington’s Employment Security Department data shows that:

  • About 60% of these workers had consistent work histories prior to the recession
  • Many of them hold college degrees and worked in highly skilled positions.

You may very well know a member of the long-term unemployed, given that  25% of Americans lost their jobs at some point during the recession, and 80% of us know someone who lost their jobs.

Why you should hire the long-term unemployed:

As our businesses recover financially and we are able to start hiring again, employers should ensure we’re not overlooking the significant pool of talent available amongst the long-term-unemployed.

Hiring the long-term unemployed is not just a feel good strategy!

The reality is that it only becomes harder for all of us to find workers as unemployment declines. Businesses are already complaining right now that they can’t find the workers they need.

Furthermore, if businesses don’t step up to the plate voluntarily, the government will find a way to require us to do so:

  • Legislation about hiring practices and the long-term unemployed has already passed in states like Oregon, and New Jersey, and in cities such as New York
  • Similar legislation has been introduced on the federal level.

Tax Breaks for hiring the long-term unemployed:

Speaking of federal intervention, I have some very good news for you on this front!

The federal government just handed businesses a big incentive when they added the long term unemployed as a targeted group in the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC).

  • As of January 1st, you can get an income tax credit for hiring someone who has been unemployed for 27 consecutive weeks or more and received unemployment compensation at some time during that period.
  • The tax credit is up to $2,400, and is a credit against the income taxes you pay.

If your company isn’t already utilizing WOTC credits, you are giving the government money you don’t owe them! And none of us want to do that.

Your job ads & discrimination against the long-term unemployed:

Review your job advertisements to ensure they don’t discriminate.

Believe it or not, there are many examples of ads that say the long-term unemployed shouldn’t apply. Remove any language of this sort.

You can go one step further and state in your ads that qualified individuals will not be disadvantaged based solely on their employment status. Focus your ads on the essential skills and knowledge and less on the work experience.

Focus on job seekers’ skills, not employment gaps:

As you review resumes and job applications, focus on job seekers’ skills sets, knowledge and abilities, and less on their employment gaps.

  • Keep in mind that many job seekers today are looking for an opportunity, so set aside your preconceptions that someone is overqualified for a job, and thus won’t be happy in it.
  • During job interviews, give job seekers the opportunity to explain their employment gaps.
  • Lastly, if you’re on the fence about hiring someone, you can minimize some of your risk by payrolling them temporarily through a staffing company until you’re confident it’s a good fit.

New ways to tackle long-term unemployment:

Interesting ideas for relieving long-term unemployment are being floated in the United States.

One idea is to offer government-subsidized relocation assistance or low-interest loans to long-term unemployed people, to help them move to an area with better job prospects.

Another idea is to offer employers a six-month payroll tax holiday when they hire someone who has been unemployed for a certain period of time.

Solving employers’ concerns about dated skills:

Sometimes, employers pass on a long-term unemployed job seeker because they’re concerned that the worker’s skills are out of date. Providing a program for skills certifications could allay that fear.

Here in Washington State, Employment Security gave out $4 million in federal funds as grants to organizations that assist these folks in finding work. Funding for this came from a user fee employers pay when they bring a foreign worker into the U.S. on a visa.

Obviously, though, the best way to get these folks back to work is for so many new jobs to be created that we can’t afford to continue to overlook this talent pool!

My personal experience with hiring the long-term unemployed:

One of the best hires I’ve ever made was someone who hadn’t worked for many years, but had the essential attributes and skills that I needed. Taking a chance on this person paid off for my business in big ways.

As the CEO of the  Society of Resource Management, Hank Jackson, said, “In one of the toughest economies the United States has ever seen, unemployment on a candidate’s resume is more of a white flag than a red one.”

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