Unemployed Americans Face Job Discrimination


If you are unemployed, you will have a harder time getting hired than if you are already employed and are applying for a new position. Why? Researchers found that unemployed Americans face job discrimination not because of their skills or why they are unemployed, but merely because they are not working.

Being unemployed hurts your job chances

The US unemployment rate as of March 2011 was reported to be 8.8 percent, a figure that includes only those individuals who are actively looking for work, not those who have stopped, so the real rate is much greater. Some cities have reported much higher rates, such as Palm Coast, Florida, at 16 percent, and Bend, Oregon, at 15.2 percent.

Nearly half of the unemployed have been without work for six months or longer, and the longer people have not worked, the less likely they will find another job, according to a report from NPR. Now a new study from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the State University of New York Stony Brook offers an explanation.

Using a series of experiments, the investigators found that “all things being equal, unemployed applicants were viewed as less competent, warm and hireable than employed individuals,” according to the head researcher, Geoffrey Ho, a doctoral student at the UCLA Anderson School of Management.

The research team asked randomly selected Americans recruited via the Internet to evaluate fictitious job candidates by reading a fictitious resume or viewing a job interview video. In the first experiment, the researchers told half the evaluators that the resume belonged to an employed individual and the other half were told it was the resume of an unemployed person. Both groups of evaluators saw the exact same resume.


When the evaluators ranked the fictitious job applicant on qualities known to be critical in forming positive impressions, the evaluators who thought the candidate was unemployed viewed the resume as belonging to a person who was less warm, competent, and proactive than the same resume viewed by evaluators who believed the resume belonged to an employed person.

In a second experiment, the evaluators were asked to view a short video of a job interview. One group believed the person being interviewed already had a job, while the other group thought the person was unemployed. Overall, the evaluators were more impressed when they believed the “applicant” was already working.

The evaluators also did not appear to give much slack to the unemployed applicant based on the reason for unemployment. That is, it made no difference whether the individual was not working because he quit, was laid off, or was terminated. However, if the applicant was not working because his former employer was completely responsible for the job loss, such as a bankruptcy, then the stigma of being unemployed disappeared.

A co-author of the study, Margaret Shih, an associate professor of human resources and organizational behavior at UCLA Anderson, noted that “to our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the psychological stigma of unemployment.” This is a timely study, given the current state of the economy in the United States.

Shih also stated, “We found that individuals tend to make negative associations with those who are unemployed, which often leads to unfair discrimination.” The findings of this study “may help explain why the unemployed may have systematically lower chances of reconnecting to work,” she concluded, and illustrate a different type of job discrimination in the American workplace.

University of California, Los Angeles


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