Buddy, Can You Spare A Job?

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I read a lot of editorials, but rarely does one send my outrage meter into the red zone the way this one does. For a person who rarely goes into "hair on fire" mode, it's ugly when I do.

Consider this my rant directed to the Washington Post's Charles Lane, who snarks his way through a series of inane arguments for why the provisions to assist the long-term unemployed are somehow wrong-headed and stupid.

Snarky Stupid Argument #1: The long-term unemployed have simply "taken some time off"

Obama’s idea – already distilled into legislation by Connecticut Democrats Rosa DeLauro in the House and Richard Blumenthal in the Senate – certainly has intuitive appeal. How indecent of some companies to hang out a “No Jobless Need Apply” sign at a time of record unemployment. And how contrary to their own self-interest: surely there are future employees of the month out there in the great pool of jobless Americans. “That makes absolutely no sense,” the president told a radio talk show audience the other day.

Actually, I can think of a couple of reasons why it would make sense. Companies may want people familiar with the latest trends and conditions in their industry, so that they don’t have to spend money training them up. Is it irrational for a hospital to prefer a nurse from their crosstown rival over a nurse who took five years off and is trying to get back into the field? Some firms may find that narrowing the field of potential hires in advance makes the hiring process more efficient.

Oh, hell yes. In a situation where some people were laid off in 2007 and 2008 and haven't found their way back to a job, it's really simply a matter of them taking a few years off? Because they were tired of working and didn't need that paycheck or those benefits. And the nurse example is absurd, since I'm pretty sure nurses have accreditation standards to meet and continuing education to keep their nursing certificate current.

How about that bank teller that was laid off when everything went kerfluey the first time? Or the over-50-but-perfectly-competent customer service representative? Did they just "take a few years off"?

Snarky Stupid Argument #2: Markets determine hiring decisions

This may or may not be a sensible calculation for any particular business. But I’m not prepared to second-guess them or assign malicious intent without a lot more specific information. In any case, if a firm that refuses to consider the unemployed is wrong about the costs and benefits of doing so, they’ll lose business to competitors that recruit differently. The market will punish them swiftly and effectively.

Oh, please. All hail the magic markets. You know, those markets that got us into this ridiculous situation to begin with? Those markets. But I digress. What is it he is saying here? Is he just so caught within his own little Beltway Bubble that he doesn't quite understand that millions of jobs just evaporated and will never come back? Never.

Let's talk about costs and benefits. In this job market, experience counts for less than nothing. Employers do indeed consider costs and benefits, and anyone over the age of 50 will come up short, despite having many more years of experience and knowledge of the tasks at hand. Health care costs too much for them when compared to the incredibly low costs of insuring younger people. Forget his magic markets. There is no market. And when there's even a glint of an opportunity, it's pretty disgusting to be discarded without even so much as a nod at the resume because there's a glut on that "market", so to speak.

Snarky Stupid Argument #3: It's really not that big of a deal

Be that as it may, the no-jobless-need-apply problem is probably not nearly as widespread, or as harmful to the unemployed, as Obama and other advocates of legislation suggest. The National Employment Law Project, which has made “unemployment discrimination” a cause celebre, found a total of 150 exclusionary ads in a four-week survey of four job-search sites -- Monster.com, Craigslist.com, CareerBuilder.com and Indeed.com. That’s 150 -- out of more than a million postings on the Web at any given time.

Anecdotally, I call BS on that. It happens every single damn day. Don't assume that every employer who discriminates puts a sign on their door confirming it. Want a job on the Internet? Got skills? Well, guess what? You don't get considered for that job, or even get your resume in front of someone if you haven't been employed in the past year. They don't have to say it to do it.

Snarky Stupid Argument #4: It's a burden on business

Subjecting companies to the risk of job-discrimination litigation is justifiable in the case of pervasive, historically rooted evils such as race or gender bias. But burdening the private sector for this dubious new purpose, in these difficult times, would be a big mistake.

Seems simple enough for business to avoid it. All they have to do is not discriminate, right?

Now with all of the snarky stupid arguments out of the way, I will say that I don't believe legislation will be all that effective, but it will ensure that some out-of-work fresh-faced law school graduates get work. It's almost impossible to prove this kind of discrimination because it's never blatant, and it involves following hiring patterns over a time horizon with follow-through on those not hired. Employers can always give a reason for not hiring someone, even one as simple as their gut check that one employee will be a better fit than another. I know because I've been the one who hired people. Ultimately the decision comes down to how that applicant will fit inside the larger organization, and there is no way to prove otherwise.

The best that legislation will do is put their foot in the door or their resume in front of a reviewer. They won't be able to go much farther than that. But don't insult my intelligence with ridiculous arguments that marginalize people who are already suffering far worse effects from this recession than many.

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