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NBC's Lauer Blames Continuing High Unemployment on Employer 'Discrimination'

On Wednesday's NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer teased an upcoming segment on unemployment by fretting: "And just ahead, help not wanted. If you're one of the 14 million Americans looking for work, you may have noticed a growing trend. Employers are posting job ads that say they're seeking only people who are currently employed or just recently laid off. Is that discrimination?"

Later, Lauer asked Today financial editor Jean Chatzky about the practice: "This sounds like discrimination, job discrimination to me. Why isn't it?" Chatzky had to explain the legal definition of discrimination to Lauer: "It isn't because the test for discrimination is that it has to apply to something that you can't change about yourself. So a disability, your age, your gender, your race. Unemployment status is fungible, it's changeable..."

Lauer persisted: "What these ads are saying is if you have been out of work for a long period of time, you are a less desirable employee. And when you think of the people out there, there are something like 6 million people looking for work who've been out of work for more than six months."

Chatzky replied:

I completely agree with you that this feels outrageous. What employers are saying in some cases is that if you have been long-term unemployed, they think you're less desirable because you were one of the first people getting – gotten rid of, so therefore you were a less valuable employee or that your technical skills may have lapsed. Now neither of those things may be true, but there are a lot of ads that say 'currently employed.'

Lauer further worried that it could be a national epidemic: "If we're seeing the ads and now they're being exposed and publicized, it makes me wonder how much is this actually just happening at companies all across the country, without posting an ad? In other words, when they go about hiring, are they hiring the people who haven't been out of work as long?"

During the segment, an image from The New York Times appeared on screen displaying a collage of want ads specifically requesting "currently" or "recently" employed job candidates. The New York Times article featuring that image, from July 25, details the legal justification behind discrimination accusations:

Legal experts say that the practice probably does not violate discrimination laws because unemployment is not a protected status, like age or race. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently held a hearing, though, on whether discriminating against the jobless might be illegal because it disproportionately hurts older people and blacks.

The practice is common enough that New Jersey recently passed a law outlawing job ads that bar unemployed workers from applying. New York and Michigan are considering the idea, and similar legislation has been introduced in Congress. The National Employment Law Project, a nonprofit organization that studies the labor market and helps the unemployed apply for benefits, has been reviewing the issue, and last week issued a report that has nudged more politicians to condemn these ads.


So, does Lauer also endorse laws to ban employers from simply mentioning qualifications in job listings?

Here is a full transcript of the August 18 segment on Today:

7:30AM ET TEASE:

MATT LAUER: And just ahead, help not wanted. If you're one of the 14 million Americans looking for work, you may have noticed a growing trend. Employers are posting job ads that say they're seeking only people who are currently employed or just recently laid off. Is that discrimination? What are you supposed to do if you've been out of work for a while? We'll have advice on that from Jean Chatzky.

7:38AM ET TEASE:

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Coming up next, an unfortunate catch-22 if you're out of work and looking for a job. Why more companies only want applicants who are currently employed.

7:42AM ET SEGMENT:

LAUER: Back now at 7:42 with bad news for job-seekers. If you're unemployed, finding a job may just have become a little bit harder. Employers are now posting job vacancies seeking candidates who are currently employed or just recently laid off. So where does that leave many of the 14 million jobless Americans? Jean Chatzky is Today's financial editor. Jean, good morning to you, nice to see you.

JEAN CHATZKY: Good morning, you too.

LAUER: This sounds like discrimination, job discrimination to me. Why isn't it?

CHATZKY: It isn't because the test for discrimination is that it has to apply to something that you can't change about yourself. So a disability, your age, your gender, your race. Unemployment status is fungible, it's changeable, so that's why it doesn't necessarily-

LAUER: But reading between the lines of the – and you don't even have to go between the lines. What these ads are saying is if you have been out of work for a long period of time, you are a less desirable employee. And when you think of the people out there, there are something like 6 million people looking for work who've been out of work for more than six months.

CHATZKY: I completely agree with you that this feels outrageous. What employers are saying in some cases is that if you have been long-term unemployed, they think you're less desirable because you were one of the first people getting – gotten rid of, so therefore you were a less valuable employee or that your technical skills may have lapsed. Now neither of those things may be true, but there are a lot of ads that say 'currently employed.'

LAUER: Right, and so if the – if we're seeing the ads and now they're being exposed and publicized, it makes me wonder how much is this actually just happening at companies all across the country, without posting an ad? In other words, when they go about hiring, are they hiring the people who haven't been out of work as long?

CHATZKY: I think that's on a case-by-case basis. But what's become very clear is that you've got to make a personal connection with those employers. It's not enough to just send in a resume anymore. You've got to make sure that you are not just a piece of paper.

LAUER: Just a couple of ideas that you want to pass out to people. First of all, you might want to be – consider if you've just recently been laid off, working pro bono.

CHATZKY: You want something to put at the top of that resume if you can find something with a current date. And that may mean doing it on a volunteer basis. And then, on your resume, take employment off, put professional experience on. Then you can list everything and it's not saying you had an actual job.

LAUER: You want people to remember to use social media very wisely and carefully.

CHATZKY: I want them to use LinkedIn, that's the site, and search for connections with people who have jobs. Did you go to the same high school, same fraternity, sorority, church. Make a personal connection and get yourself in there.

LAUER: Practice your interviewing skill, get you credit or keep your credit in good shape.

CHATZKY: I know this is hard for people.

LAUER: I'm just going to say, that's easier said than done.

CHATZKY: Right. Even if you can only make the minimum payments, make the minimum payments on time, because employers are checking.

LAUER: Alright, Jean Chatzky. Jean, as always, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

CHATZKY: Sure.


- Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow Kyle Drennen on Twitter.