Steve Chapman
In his dogged quest to boost employment, President Barack Obama has searched far and wide for new solutions. One provision in his American Jobs Act may very well have a positive impact on hiring. Just not in America.

The section consists of a ban on discrimination against the unemployed. Some companies have posted ads that say those who are out of work need not apply. It sounds like a cruel joke: You don't need a job if you have a job, but unless you have one, you can't get one.

But the real joke is thinking that the way to get companies excited about hiring is making them walk through a minefield to do it. Or that employers who shy away from the unemployed are irrational or evil. Or that the policy of a few companies has much to do with the plight of the jobless.

This proposal may be interpreted as one more sign that Democrats know little about the realities of running a business. Could be, but they aren't alone. New Jersey actually passed a ban that mandates fines of up to $10,000 for refusing the unemployed, and it was signed by Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a conservative darling.

The White House argues, "The exclusion of unemployed applicants is a troubling and arbitrary screen that is bad for the economy, bad for the unemployed, and ultimately bad for firms trying to find the best candidates."

Trust Obama and his aides to think they know better than employers how to find the best employees. If the policy is self-destructive, firms that practice it will pay a price for their stupidity: the loss of good workers.

That competitive disadvantage may eventually drive them out of business. The relentless pressures of the market are a powerful force in favor of rational hiring policies.

The forbidden policy appears to be the employment equivalent of a two-headed cow -- not mythical, but a long way from being common. The National Employment Law Project trumpets that over four weeks, it found 150 ads excluding the unemployed on major job sites, such as Monster.com and Career Builder. It's a puny number, when you consider that Career Builder alone claims to list a million jobs.

The few companies that rely on this method may have good reason to steer clear of those with big gaps in their work history. In a fast-changing industry, last year's knowledge may be as useful as skill with an abacus.

A lot of people are unemployed through no fault of their own. But in a depressed economy, companies can afford to be ridiculously choosy. They may figure that anyone with a job in a sluggish sector must be an unusually able employee, since all the employees who weren't unusually able -- along with many who were -- got laid off long ago.


Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.
 

 
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