The Elephant in the Room
August 6, 2012 7:27 am
We’ve all heard the stories about job listings that discriminate against those that don’t already have a job, and of how hard it is for the unemployed to find work. Much of what’s been reported has been no less gut wrenching for being personal, anecdotal or speculative. But recent research presents strong evidence toward an immediate and illogical bias against unemployed job-seekers.
The Stigma of Unemployment: When Joblessness Leads to Being Jobless, a report prepared by researchers at UCLA, focuses on peoples’ perception of the unemployed, in contrast to previous studies that mainly sought to study the internal psychological effects of joblessness.
Observers often attribute success or failure to intangible personality qualities rather than circumstance — and it’s no different for people rating job applicants. The study states: “We asked participants to review both an employed and an unemployed resume and found that individuals rated the unemployed candidates less favourably than the employed candidates on both perceived competence and warmth.” (Warmth in this context refers to the level of perceived friendliness, trustworthiness and good nature.)
The study was based off of an experiment in which researchers presented subjects with employed and unemployed resumes, measuring whether the circumstances of unemployment altered perception of the candidate. The study found that being laid off did not make a candidate any more favorable than a candidate who had left a previous job voluntarily (though going down with the ship at a bankrupt company did strike a sympathetic note with potential employers).
The UCLA study presents strong evidence for bias:
Our results suggest that the unemployed may have a legitimate concern about bias against them because unemployment stigma exists occurs instantaneously (i.e., the moment an individual is unemployed), is unjustifiable (i.e., without regard to qualifications), difficult to alleviate …and has negative consequences.
The Huffington Post has a summary of lawmakers’ attempts to battle the unemployment bias:
Lawmakers in several states proposed prohibiting employers from discriminating against unemployed candidates in 2010, in response to news stories about job listings that specified candidates “must be currently employed.” President Barack Obama proposed banning such discrimination in 2011.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the stigma of unemployment has boosted the national jobless rate by a quarter of a percentage point.
Perhaps empirical evidence will eventually expedite new laws to fight discrimination. For now, the nation’s 12.7 million unemployed can now add a hiring bias to their struggles.
The Psychological Stigma of Unemployment: When Joblessness leads to Being Jobless, is based on the research of Geoffrey C. Ho, Margaret Shih, and Daniel J. Walters (UCLA) and will be presented August 5th at the annual meeting of The Academy of Management.
Image from here