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Getting The Unemployed Back To Work: A 60 Minutes Special Report

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Scott Pelley of "60 Minutes" (image courtesy of CBS News)

Scott Pelley of “60 Minutes” (image courtesy of CBS News)

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In February 2012, Scott Pelley of “60 Minutes” devoted a segment of the “60 Minutes Overtime” show to the status of the long-term unemployed. The focus was on whether those unemployed felt discriminated against because they were in such a state. The responses were surprising to Pelley as the short answer was a resounding “yes.” The question now is whether things have changed for this group.

The trauma of losing a job is bad enough. The added stress of finding another line of work has been considerable over the last few years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of December 2012, the U.S. unemployment number was at 12.2 million. Of that number, 39.1 percent was made up of those long-term unemployed (jobless for 27 weeks or more).

While the economic trend seems to be slowly reducing the number of unemployed, those who have been out of work the longest may find that the reality of being unemployed for an extended period of time can still count against them. Statistics suggest that companies like to hire people who are currently working. It doesn’t seem to matter that so many jobs simply disappeared in the last few years and that quite a few of the unemployed have long work histories and desired skills.

What Scott Pelley discovered during a “60 Minutes” segment on jobs almost a year ago is largely still true.

Except for New Jersey, Oregon and the District of Columbia, there are no legal protections against eliminating long-term unemployed applicants from job interviews. That was the case when “60 Minutes” aired its program in February of 2012, and that is still the case today. Since the segment, no national law has been passed that prevents discrimination relative to long-term unemployment.

The type of job offered can make a difference as well. There are some jobs that require current employment, as the job itself doesn’t offer pay. The compensation may be free rent, as in the case of a property manager, in exchange for limited duties, or other types of compensation that offer space, goods or access rather than money. In these cases, the person applying for the job would need to be employed in order to even be considered.

Small businesses differ from the larger ones, as does the type of business. A small bike shop looking to hire a sales person/bike mechanic is more likely to be interested in the applicant’s actual skills rather than how long the person has been out of work. Bob Molinari, owner of Placerville Bike Shop in California, a small family-owned business, said that his focus would be on the skills, as that is what his business needs.

A larger business may see things differently. There may be an entry-level training program that would offset a rusty skill set and a break in employment may not mean as much. Getting in at a higher level would require a more advanced and current skill set.

Conversely, the I.T. field is driven by up-to-date skills in the broad spectrum of computer programming at all times. New hires are simply expected to be able to program right from the start. A substantial hiatus from programming, in any computer language, would not be welcomed.

Commissioned sales jobs want proven sales ability. Being unemployed for an extended period of time won’t provide those numbers. The unemployed, once again, are at a distinct disadvantage.

The statistics for the long-term unemployed remain less than optimistic. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in December 2012, 4.8 million people have been out of work for 27 weeks or more. The average time someone is out of work is about 40 weeks. For the last year and a half, those numbers have remained pretty constant.

Employers apparently feel that currently employed applicants have more appeal. In an environment that is essentially an employer’s market, there is more room for using paper screening with a wider variety of circumstances to eliminate job seekers from an interview.

Until the economy recovers enough to draw down the number of people out of work, the long-term unemployed are likely to remain out of luck, caught in the same situation illuminated by “60 Minutes” and Scott Pelley a year ago.

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60 Minutes Overtime, 02/19/12
Lesley Stahl discusses new and controversial research on the power of the placebo effect. Also, a look inside the amazing mind of Magnus Carlsen, the number one chess player in the world. Plus, are employers discriminating against the long-term unemployed? And, take a look back at Mike Wallace’s 1972 profile of infamous chess master Bobby Fischer.

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Charles Ferris is a freelance writer who has lived in the Sierra, halfway between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, for the last 37 years. He retired from teaching after 36 years in 2010. He and his wife hike, kayak, cross country ski, snow shoe, ride mountain bikes and road bikes, year round. His work can be found at Examiner.com.

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