President Obama hosted several leaders from many of the nation's largest public and private businesses at the White House on Friday to urge them to help the long-term unemployed get back to work. The event was a follow-up to a pledge made in the State of the Union address Obama delivered earlier this week.
One of the unfortunate ramifications of the nation's ongoing unemployment crisis is the tendency of some businesses to overlook or bypass the nearly 4 million people who've been out of work for six months or more.
"The interesting thing, by the way, is statistically, the long-term unemployed are oftentimes slightly better educated, some cases better qualified than folks who just lost their job," Obama said, adding that they "need employers to realize it doesn't reflect at all on their abilities or their values; it just means they've been dealing with the aftermath of this really tough job market and all they need is a fair shot."
He signed an executive order directing the federal government not to discriminate against long-term unemployed workers. In addition, the president called on Congress to restore the emergency unemployment benefits that expired at the end of December, adding that each week 72,000 more Americans are losing this "economic lifeline."
In a conference call with reporters Thursday evening, Gene Sperling, who heads the White House National Economic Council, said that the administration has been in talks with corporate leaders since May and in the past few months has secured pledges from 300 companies to hire the long-term unemployed.
"The response has been inspiring," he said.
The president announced Friday that the Labor Department is going to lead a $150 million ready-to-work partnership competition through which local governments, nonprofits and major employers will collaborate "to help workers get the skills they need and build bridges to the jobs that require them."
"We're going to keep knocking down barriers to re-employment so more of the nearly 4 million long-term unemployed Americans can regain the stability and security that a good job brings their families," Obama said.
The upside, he added, is that they will then have more money to spend, "which will lift the entire economy up and create a virtuous cycle instead of a negative one."
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(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)