Help wanted — jobless need not apply

In 2008, Michelle, a 53-year-old Illinois resident with 19 years experience in information technology, became another casualty of the Great Recession. More than a year later, after a long and fruitless job search, she finally heard from a headhunter who thought she sounded like a great fit for a post he was looking to fill.

But when Michelle told him how long she had been out of work, the headhunter turned apologetic: His client, he said, wouldn’t accept people who had been unemployed for more than six months. Michelle would go on to stay jobless for so long that she ultimately exhausted all her unemployment benefits, and, for the first time in her life, was forced to apply for food stamps and welfare.

Michelle’s tale was recounted at a recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) meeting devoted to the issue of hiring discrimination against the unemployed. As the commission found, Michelle’s experience is far from unique. No one officially tracks how many job openings explicitly bar the unemployed, but several news reports since last summer have uncovered numerous online job postings that require candidates be employed during the application process. One such listing was posted by the cellphone giant Sony Ericsson–a move the company later called a “mistake.”

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