Obama Hosts Business Leaders, Hopes They Change How They Hire

President Obama is hosting business leaders at the White House in order to discuss possible solutions to long-term unemployment. The president says that he hopes for companies to revise their hiring practices, which often appear to be stacked against those who have been unemployed for six months or more.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. President Obama summoned business leaders to the White House today. His message: Hire people who've been out of work for a long time. It's just the latest example of the president trying to get things done without having to turn to Congress. So far, more than 300 companies have promised to re-examine their hiring practices to make sure that they are not discriminating against the long-term unemployed.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Unemployment has been coming down as more help-wanted signs are going up, but those who have been out of work for an extended period still face a very difficult job market. President Obama says all too often, even the most dedicated job seekers fail to get a second look.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It's a cruel Catch-22. The longer you're unemployed, the more unemployable you may seem.

HORSLEY: The president says it's an illusion that there's something wrong with people just because they've been out of work for a long time. Often, they're just victims of the severe economic downturn. But that's little comfort to those like Erick Varela, who introduced the president today. When he left the Army six years ago, Varela applied for all kinds of jobs but couldn't find any offers.

ERICK VARELA: I knew I could contribute to society like I had in my military service. But I felt helpless, lost and more importantly, a disappointment and a failure to my family.

HORSLEY: Varela eventually found work, thanks to a training program sponsored by a California utility. And the White House wants to encourage that. But Obama says it's also important to remove obstacles such as screening programs that weed out job applicants who have a pockmarked credit history.

OBAMA: If you've been out of work for 18 months, you may have missed some bills. That can't be a barrier, then, for you getting the work so you can pay your bills.

HORSLEY: In the past, the administration's tried to make it illegal for employers to discriminate against the long-term unemployed, but aides says such measures have no chance of passing Congress. Instead, Obama is simply jawboning employers and he says hundreds, including some of the nation's biggest companies, are getting the message.

OBAMA: In some cases, what I heard from the CEOs is, it was just a matter of let's pay attention to this.

HORSLEY: As he's done in other areas this week, the president also wants the federal government to lead by example. He signed a memo directing federal agencies to give all job applicants a fair shake, no matter how long they've been out of work.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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