In his January farewell address, I couldn’t help but notice President Obama crowing about an unemployment rate supposedly sitting at a 10-year low. That’s because, as Sean Hannity aptly pointed out on his show immediately following the address, upwards of 95 million Americans have dropped out of the labor force. In other words, the unemployment numbers Obama and others like to tout to show the efficacy of their economic policies don’t actually reflect reality.

And yet, hiring companies often can’t find the talent they need to fill their open slots.

But why?

There are many factors at play here, of course, from all-too-easy government assistance to a growing skills gap between willing workers and desperate employers.

But perhaps the most tragic yet impactful reason is an inconvenient truth that plagues us all, especially those of us who recruit and hire for a living. The fact of the matter is, whether through their own bad decisions, horrible life circumstances, or a little bit of both, a significant percentage of our population have rendered themselves, by today’s almost-universally-held standards of employment, almost completely unemployable.

And sadly, many staffing agencies are stuck in a position where, though they may often like to help people who seem to genuinely want a second chance, a significant chunk of their clients simply don’t want them.

Which brings up the question, should anyone, truly, be “unemployable?” What are the real ramifications of that term? After all, everyone’s gotta eat, right? Suppose “unemployable” means nobody, anywhere, will hire them, not even to clean toilets or shovel cow manure.

I’m not talking about lazy people who genuinely don’t want to work. Sure, there are plenty of those, and to be completely honest, I don’t care what happens to them. I’m talking about willing people who can’t find a job because of an addictive habit or a mistake in their past.

Do you really need to have a clean background to pack widgets into boxes on an assembly line? And to get even more controversial, do you need to be able to pass a drug test to sweep a sidewalk (assuming they aren’t stoned on the job, of course, but plenty of those can still ‘pass’ a drug test)?

In many cases, I do recognize that the answer is yes! There are doubtless plenty of jobs out there that do require these things, but I’d be willing to bet there are plenty of employers to whom these are a preference, not a necessity. They truly don’t mean for fellow humans to be unemployable – they just want them to be employed … somewhere else.

The problem, of course, occurs when almost everybody feels this way.

Ergo, 95 million people who have given up on looking for a job, not counted in the unemployment ranks but still putting food in their mouths, every single day.

Ergo, “unemployable.”

So, since in modern society unemployable doesn’t mean being allowed to starve, where does that food come from? The answer, as we all know, is welfare, charity, friends, family, and yes, even theft or other crimes. In other words, a way that doesn’t involve them earning their bread the Biblical way, through the sweat of their own brow.

And when they aren’t earning money, they aren’t spending it either, thus completing the sad circle of becoming a complete drain on society.

We recently had a discussion between members of our leadership team about this problem, because it’s something we experience every day. Please remember that in this case we’re talking about people who have made mistakes but genuinely want to turn their lives around, and yet have been unjustly added to the list of the “unemployable” by society.

How can we help?

Sure, we should, we can, and we do educate our clients on the law and current EEOC regulations, but they don’t have to do business with us. There are a hundred other staffing agencies willing and eager to accommodate them – if they can find the people.

And it’s a gray area. According to the EEOC, “There is no Federal law that clearly prohibits an employer from asking about arrest and conviction records.” BUT, and it’s a big one, “However, using such records as an absolute measure to prevent an individual from being hired could limit the employment opportunities of some protected groups, and thus cannot be used in this way.”

On one hand, the EEOC could potentially sue if employers screen applicants on the basis of a felony conviction, especially if they see a disparate impact in the employer’s hiring practices, but on the other hand hiring someone with a felony conviction could result in a lawsuit from any victims of the employee’s misconduct. It’s truly a no-win situation, but for some business often it’s easier, and seemingly safer, to say no to all felons rather than determine which offenses directly relate to the job at hand.

Drug testing is another tough issue. We don’t want anyone to have a drug-related accident on the job, but anyone with a week’s experience in the staffing world knows that if we could relax the drug test restrictions somewhat we’d fill a LOT more of our orders. Whether or not we SHOULD depends on the client and the job itself, of course.

But even without relaxing drug restrictions, perhaps there are ways staffing agencies can help with drug addiction, somehow help them get clean, then give them another shot in 30 days.

As for felons who just want a second chance, maybe it’s time for a paradigm shift in the employment world. I’d love to see more business follow in the footsteps of Edwins, a high-end French restaurant in Cleveland that made the news for their practice of hiring and training ex-cons.ess people make the leap from “unemployable” to productive members of society.

That’s the kind of outside-the-box thinking that changes lives instead of fostering dependency.

3 Responses to “Society’s ‘Unemployable’ Problem, And What Can Be Done About It”

  1. Jim Edwards

    The real problem with our modern economy/ human resource problem—is that there are too many people who do not have enough resources to provide for themselves and their dependents and there are no longer available jobs to provide new income and resources.

    This shift began during the industrial revolution and was discussed by early economists like Fredrick Winslow Taylor (creator of the field of Scientific Management.) This shift became more pronounced during the late. 60s and grew larger during the stagflation era of the 70s. Today, this shift has caused the automation and loss of middle and low skilled jobs worldwide.

    I agree with the premise of this article that as a public policy, it is better to not discriminate against applicants with a checkered past or who are adicts—but in the modern world where there are hundreds of qualified applicants with graduate degrees lining up to flip burgers for minimum wage and no benefits—employers are going to keep hiring highly qualified candidates and leave the average worker unemployable.

    I say all of this as a bar manager with a bachelors from a Little Ivy (Bowdoin) a masters from University of Texas, and a JD from UNM. I have $3,200 a month student loan payments—so I work as a bar manager because I could not find a law job that paid over $27k yearly. I look at my predecessors at my position, and not a single one had a college degree—today I only employ two bartenders (out of 9) without at least a bachelors and two of my bartenders have a masters, and my DJ has her JD and works full time as a public defender (she graduated in the top 10% of her law school class at UT which is a top 25 law school—and still can only get a job that pays $22k a year.)

    What workers are displaced by me as a bar manager instead of working as an attorney? What workers are displaced by my bartenders and DJ?

    Forget drug addicts, who is employing the guys that listened to the Army recruiter and served their country after high school and went to a few years of college but never graduated? How about the kids from rural areas that worked on the family farm after high school and took out $200k in student loans to take online classes because they were unemployable without a college degree? Who hires these people?

    As more and more highly educated people take minimum wage jobs—where do the typical workers of these jobs (single moms and young people from rural and blue collar backgrounds) look for employment?

    Reply
    • Gary Clements

      “The real problem with our modern economy/ human resource problem—is that there are too many people who do not have enough resources to provide for themselves and their dependents and there are no longer available jobs to provide new income and resources.”

      This is poop. We have an IHop newly built right here in Dayton, Ohio and it sits…brand new…..empty….because IHop can’t find ANYONE that can pass a drug test. Our entire city has a crisis of positions available but unfilled. Every Speedway in town is literally crawling with drug addicts with some sort of story that goes like this: “My kid has cancer, I’m on my way to Tennessee for treatment and I need cash”. I get hit up as I enter my Church, which is across the street from a Speedway. Our policy at our church is to give food from our pantry. This is good food. The same stuff anyone of us would buy at Krogers. IT IS NEVER EVER ACCEPTED!!!! If we don’t have cash to feed the drugs, they aren’t interested.

      The IHop I mention is 200 yards from Speedway.

      Liberal Ideology wouldn’t take so much heat if it actually showed evidence of success. It doesn’t work. It will never work. They will never work.

      Reply
  2. John Farmer

    This is the closest answer I’ve heard to my own job problem. I don’t do any drugs (just caffeine and nicotine) but I like to quit jobs when I’ve got the money to stay at home awhile. It’s a habit from working on supply boats and other high paying seasonal jobs. I know that’s problematic when you’ve been trained or something but places like McDonald’s and Dollar General are acting like my job history is a deal breaker. How can someone like myself get a simple job like digging ditches or something? Does everything require such a mountain of paperwork now that nobody can stand a temporary worker anymore?

    Reply

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