The news this past Friday was that the unemployment rate has dropped to 6.6 percent. Meanwhile, 1.7 million Americans are impacted by the inaction of Congress once again failing this week to get the vote to extend long-term unemployment benefits.
On Jan. 31, President Obama kicked off his Presidents' Pledge to help the long-term unemployed and I was in the room.
I remember watching the "Popeye" cartoons as a child, and there was a line he would often shout just before being pushed into action: "It's all I can stands, I can't stands no more!"
Watching President Obama's "State of the Union" Address, I clearly felt as though he had reached his "Popeye" moment when he told Congress he was going to do everything in his power to help American families, with or without their support. In a time of crisis, this is exactly what a good leader does, and I applaud the President for finally deciding to take action despite the preventative measures being thrust in the way by an unnecessarily combative Congress.
At the meeting of Obama and the CEOs in the East Wing of the White House, the President acknowledged, "Folks who've been unemployed the longest often have the toughest time getting back to work. It's a cruel Catch-22: The longer you're unemployed, the more unemployable you may seem. This is an illusion, but it's one that, unfortunately, we know statistically is happening out there."
The President gained the support of over 300 major corporations by signing a pledge to improve their recruitment and hiring processes, including the abolishment of discriminating against long-term unemployed candidates. With the White House stating that these types of people still make up 37.7 percent of the total jobless population, this is a step in the right direction to getting Americans back to work. More Americans back to work means more money can be injected into our floundering economy, and regardless of which side of the isle you're on, you have to agree this is a good thing.
Credit history impact
The President also addressed a need to examine the impact of credit histories on the long-term unemployed. If someone has been out of work for 18 months, he noted, missing some bill payments may affect your credit score, but this should not be a barrier towards being hired. Sadly, this is not already the case, and many Americans have been turned down for potential employment opportunities on the basis of a credit check.
Even several of the CEO's at the meeting acknowledged candidates should be hired based on their merit, and fixing this problem in some situations may be as easy as simply paying more attention to these instances and ensuring candidates aren't being tossed aside because those responsible for hiring are using erroneous or outdated guidelines.
'Ready to Work Partnerships'
Finally, President Obama announced an upcoming Department of Labor grant competition called "Ready to Work Partnerships," that will support innovative public and private efforts to help train unemployed workers for higher-skill jobs. The $150 million in funding for the program will come from existing resources associated with the H-1B visa program, which is a non-immigrant visa that allowed employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations.
All-in-all, I was very encouraged to see both our top government officials and a list of CEO's from so many huge American companies taking time out of their busy schedules to meet and discuss these very important issues that are still plaguing the nation.
This is clearly creating momentum in a positive direction, and I sincerely hope it continues, because there are still around 27 million Americans that are unemployed or underemployed impacted by long-term unemployment and discriminatory hiring practices that have thus far gone unaddressed by a Congress that seems determined to do everything in its power to create more hurdles towards finding gainful employment.
I think it is extremely important to once again stress the fact that these people want to find work – not receive government handouts!The majority of these long-term unemployed Americans have worked their entire adult lives, paying into unemployment insurance every single year, meaning this is essentially their money anyway, although this often goes unsaid during debates about cutting these programs.
Many are out of work through no fault of their own, and one of the primary solutions is to create new jobs so they can get back to work as soon as possible. Hopefully, the rest of Washington will finally get this message and follow suit, ensuring that this country continues to move towards the end goal of a stable, steadily-rising economy and steadily-dropping unemployment numbers.
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