- The Washington Times - Friday, January 31, 2014

President Obama on Friday formally announced a deal with some of the nation’s largest companies to institute new hiring practices that do not “disadvantage” those who have been jobless for several months or longer.

The new initiative, agreed to by more than 300 businesses including giants such AT&T, Apple, Wal-Mart, Ford and others, also will extend to the federal government and its interview processes.

In a speech at the White House, the president again called on Congress to pass an extension of long-term jobless benefits for the more than 1 million Americans who lost them late last year, but while lawmakers remain gridlocked on the issue, Mr. Obama said he’s moving ahead with steps to help the unemployed.

“They just need that chance, somebody who will look past that stretch of unemployment, put in context of the fact that we went through the worst financial and economic crisis in our lifetime which created a group of folks who were unemployed longer than normal,” Mr. Obama. “All they need is a fair shot … giving up on the unemployed will create a drag on our economy we cannot tolerate.”

The agreement means that companies will not favor one prospective employee over another based solely on the length of time each has been unemployed.

The president and Jason Furman, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisors, both have cited statistics showing that someone who has been unemployed for eight months is half as likely to be hired as someone without a job for only a month, even if the two applicants have the same qualifications, work history and education.

“That’s not right,” the president said.

In addition, Mr. Obama said he wants companies to put less emphasis on the credit history of applicants. It’s understandable, the president said, that the unemployed may have fallen behind on bills and subsequently taken a hit to their credit, but that shouldn’t keep them from being hired.

Friday’s action is the latest in Mr. Obama’s so-called “year of action,” in which he’s pledged to act on the economy without the aid of Congress. Since his State of the Union address Tuesday, the president has used executive power to hike the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 for all federal contractors and established a new system of government-backed, interest-bearing retirement accounts available to all American workers.