When Joblessness Begets Joblessness

Being unemployed is bad enough. But the feeling that being unemployed makes you less and less employable is almost unbearable.

Some companies, it seems, are discriminating against job seekers who’ve been unemployed for more than six months—a serious problem in a job market that, otherwise, seems to be picking up nicely of late.

“Employers may suspect that an unemployed applicant is seeking an available job for the wrong reasons,” the Associated Press explained in a report published today. “Also, some long-term unemployed applicants may come across as too urgent for work.”

The problem has gotten bad enough that some states, according to an earlier article in The Wall Street Journal, have taken up “legislation to make it illegal for companies to discriminate against the unemployed.”

Peter Drucker, as we’ve noted before, well understood the pain of being jobless for a long stretch. In The New Society, he put it particularly starkly, writing, “The main effect of long-term unemployment is not physical but psychological: loss of self-respect; loss of initiative; finally, in extreme cases, loss of sanity.”

Photo by John E. Allen, Inc. Source: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

But Drucker also would have seen one strong, albeit cruel, reason for skepticism of the unemployed as job applicants, especially if they’re knowledge workers. “Knowledge evaporates unless it’s used and augmented,” Drucker wrote in Technology, Management, and Society. “Skill goes to sleep, it becomes rusty, but it can be restored and refurbished very quickly. That’s not true of knowledge. If knowledge isn’t challenged to grow, it disappears fast. It’s infinitely more perishable than any other resource we have ever had.”

In short, use it or lose it—fast.

What do you think: Is discrimination against the unemployed always unfair or can it be reasonable—and why?