Jobs are scarce, but the stigma remains
RALEIGH -- Craig Guerdat used to be a technical writer but hasn't been able to land a full-time job in his field for 2 1/2 years. He suspects one reason he's been passed over again and again is that employers don't want to hire someone who doesn't have a job.
Sure, he gets call-backs and interviews, but the 64-year-old Raleigh resident remains stuck in a part-time office administrator's job.
Guerdat is not paranoid. Experts say being unemployed remains a disadvantage and a stigma even though mass layoffs indiscriminately swept through corporate divisions, entire companies and vulnerable industries.
An advocacy group for workers surveyed online job postings last year and found more than 100 companies want only applicants who are employed.
And it's worse for those who have been without a full-time job for longer than a few months, a Catch-22 that has not been rendered obsolete by the sheer numbers of the long-term unemployed. For the past two years, more than 40 percent of the nation's unemployed have been out of a job for 27 weeks or more, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"It's something no one talks about, but it's out there," said Cindy Waite, CEO of Accentuate Staffing in Raleigh. "It's the perception their skills are lacking, they're not trying hard enough to get a job, and that A-players would be getting jobs."
Jim Lind, 59, a Raleigh programmer and project manager, has been out of a job since December 2008. Lind, who pulled down a $96,000 annual salary before bonuses, said he's seen the evidence first-hand.
"I have been in two face-to-face interviews where they told me it's a negative. They want to know, 'What have you been doing in the last three years? Have you been in jail?' "
As more Americans become mired in long-term unemployment, some argue that screening out jobless applicants is a form of discrimination and should be outlawed. Still, some experts defend the practice.
Duke University economics professor John Coleman suspects the practice is becoming more common as companies are overwhelmed with candidates who may be applying not because they're genuinely interested but because they're desperate.
Harry Davis, an economist at Appalachian State University, noted that some are in jobless limbo because they were cast off from shrinking industries. Some may have prolonged their jobless tenure because of extensions in unemployment benefits to nearly two years. Age discrimination is likely to be a factor, too, while technology gains let businesses do the same amount of work with fewer people.
And it cannot be discounted that some who go for more than a year without finding work are not impressive candidates.
On the other hand, the unemployed come with their own assets: They can be willing, available and cheap.