American Voices: George Wentworth

This article is republished from PBS

George Wentworth is a senior staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project.

"I graduated from college in the 1970s during a recession not unlike the one we’ve been experiencing for the past few years.

My first job out of college was working in my hometown unemployment office. And in some respects it was difficult because I knew a lot of the people that I was paying unemployment checks to. And one of them, I remember, was my godfather, Frank, who had gotten laid off from one of the major manufacturing plants in town.

And I remember him coming in. He was just embarrassed to see me. And, over time, you know, he said, "I'll be back to work." But he ended up being outta work for a long, long time. And it was just so painful to see the depression set in.

It was an experience that left an impression on me throughout my career.

Workers who are long-term unemployed have a leg down because employers are in many instances not interested in considering them after they've been out of work for a certain amount of time.

So, we've seen the phenomenon of discrimination against the unemployed. Unemployed need not apply.

It really is kind of a catch 22 when an employer says they're only going to consider workers who are currently employed, so you have to have a job to get a job.

That's why one of the initiatives, that my organization is very active in, is encouraging the adoption of policies that help low-income workers and unemployed workers.

Just last week, the New York City Council passed an ordinance that would prohibit discrimination against the unemployed in the hiring process.

Now, this doesn't mean that an employer could not take into account the reason that somebody became unemployed. But what it does do is say that you can't be excluded from the pool of candidates solely because you're unemployed.

We need to, I think, invest more in quality reemployment services for unemployed workers, particularly long-term unemployed workers. 'Cause it will really be a tragedy to lose their workers – and see them leave the labor market altogether. Everyone loses in that scenario.

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