Thoughts for the day

Earlier, I read this NYT article about Obama’s proposal to protect the unemployed from biased hiring. Basically, unemployed individuals would become members of a protected class–similar to the groups currently protected by Title VII, the A.D.A. and other statutes.

Having taken a pretty intense seminar in Employment Discrimination Law (and still incredibly interested in going into that field someday, down the line), I’m having debates with myself about it.

I think it’s a commendable idea in theory, since unemployment is so rampant. And it’s unfortunate but true that the longer people are unemployed, the more difficult it becomes for them to return to work. While the unemployment rate would drop if unemployed people simply gave up looking for work (making it look like things had improved), Obama appears to understand that it won’t fix things long-term, so he’s trying to head it off at the pass. In theory, it’s sound and I respect the logic behind it.

At the same time, I’m hesitant to go so far as putting them in a protected class. My reasoning is mostly due to the language of civil rights statutes. Members of a protected class are protected from discrimination on the basis of “immutable characteristics”–things they cannot change and over which they have no control (i.e. race, ethnicity, gender).

So if being unemployed is suddenly considered an “immutable characteristic” (which, by definition, it’s not, since they haven’t always been unemployed and won’t always be), then it can’t be a characteristic of a protected class.

I’m torn, because we need to reduce unemployment–that’s a fact. But if we classify unemployed individuals as members of a protected class, doesn’t that then discriminate against other job-seekers who have been unemployed for less time? It shouldn’t be a game of seniority, where the person who has been unemployed the longest gets the job first. Yes, it’s a factor to consider, but it shouldn’t be the only factor, in my opinion.


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