It will not surprise my loyal fans—Hey, Dad!—that I like President Obama’s jobs bill. It’s a second stimulus, and when I haven’t been flacking the first, I’ve been kvetching for more. When unemployment is 9% and federal borrowing is practically free, it’s time to pay construction workers who need jobs to fix schools that need fixing. But truly close readers of my work—Love you, Mom!—will also recall my occasional lurches into right-wing extremism. Which brings me to a little-noticed provision of Obama’s bill, a ban on discrimination against unemployed workers.
Um…isn’t that kind of nuts?
I understand that in a labor market this awful, millions of Americans are unemployed even though they’re making good-faith efforts to find work. That’s why we need to extend unemployment insurance, so their families won’t have to suffer. That’s why we need more stimulus, so there will be more jobs to go around.
But the idea that the federal government needs to force employers to ignore the recent job history of applicants whose recent job history happens to be “none” sounds like a parody of equal-outcome liberalism. I’m sorry, but if I needed to hire someone to make widgets, I’d be more inclined to hire someone who’s been making widgets than someone who’s been making nothing. I’m trying to imagine how job interviews would go in the brave new world where “idle” is a protected class:
EMPLOYER: So are you working right now?
APPLICANT: That’s none of your business.
EMPLOYER: May I ask whether you’ve ever worked?
APPLICANT: You can ask my lawyer when he deposes you.
One could argue that a wise employer should recognize that there’s more to job applicants than recent employment history, but that doesn’t mean there ought to be a law. What about applicants who were only working part-time because of the feeble job market? Should they get federal protection, too? Are we trying to stimulate the economy, or just the litigation industry?
The statistics about the debilitating effects of long-term unemployment on future earnings are genuinely chilling. Idle workers clearly do become less attractive to employers. But government can’t make everyone equally attractive to employers. Rather than adding new burdens to the hiring process to give the unemployed a better shot at scarce jobs, why don’t we just try to make jobs less scarce?