TRENTON – In the aftermath of the federal government cutting off benefits to New Jersey’s long-term unemployed, Senator Peter J. Barnes, III introduced two measures last week that would assist unemployed New Jerseyans in getting back into the workforce.
“Being long-term unemployed – or without a job for at least six-months – can have serious financial and emotional effects on an individual, and the longer they are unemployed the more difficult it is for them to reenter the workforce,” said Senator Barnes, D-Middlesex. “With half of New Jersey unemployed falling into the category of long-term unemployed, it is obvious that what we are currently are doing to assist them isn’t working. With these initiatives, I think we can start to help people transition back into the workforce.”
According to the Asbury Park Press, “46.6 percent of New Jersey’s 328,000 unemployed workers — about 153,000, or enough to fill MetLife Stadium twice over — have been out of jobs for six months or more.” Senator Barnes notes that this is particularly concerning since 79,000 New Jersey men and women lost their unemployment insurance benefits in January when the federal government failed to extend long-term benefits.
The first bill would prohibit employers from using an applicant’s current employment status as a factor in hiring decisions.
“The stigma of being unemployed can have a greater impact on whether or not someone gets an interview or a job offer than the person’s qualifications or experience, putting the unemployed in a Catch 22 they simply cannot escape,” said Senator Barnes. “We must stop employers from discriminating against the unemployed, but rather ensure they look at the individual, their skills and training and their overall fit for the position when making hiring decisions, providing all applicants an equal footing into the job market.”
The bill would not prohibit the employer from inquiring about circumstances surrounding an applicant’s separation from their previous position, considering specific job-related qualifications such as a professional or occupational license, registration, certificate, permit or other credential or the level of education, training or the amount of experience the applicant has when making hiring decisions. The bill would also allow employers to continue to consider only applicants who are currently employed by the employer.
The bill supplements a 2011 Barnes-sponsored law that prohibits employers from posting ads that specify out-of-work individuals would not be considered. The bill would authorize a $1,000 penalty for a first offense, $5,000 penalty for a second offense and a $10,000 penalty for any subsequent offense.
A recent study by Rand Ghayad of Northeastern University found that those who have been off the employment rolls for long periods of time were significantly less likely to receive an interview for a job than those with the same or even less experience and qualifications who have been employed. It is thought that this is due to a perceived loss of skills and networks during the person’s period out of work. Senator Barnes hopes that by providing workers with access to training opportunities, this skills gap can be closed, removing an additional barrier to employment.
The second bill, which is also sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney, would provide the long-term unemployed with priority in state-administered training programs. Under the bill, at least 50 percent of state funds for training and employment programs at community colleges for displaced workers would be reserved for individuals who have exhausted all of their state and federal unemployment insurance benefits.
“This January, Congress failed to extend an important safety net that provided New Jersey’s long-term unemployed with extended benefits as they search for a new job,” said Senator Barnes. “With these cuts, approximately 79,000 New Jerseyans lost benefits that were providing them with funds to pay for basic necessities from housing to food to clothing. By offering these workers with priority entrance to state training programs, we can help them to catch up on the skills and training they may have missed while being unemployed, making these individuals more marketable and appealing to employers.”
Both bills have been referenced to the Senate Labor Committee.