Obama, multiple top execs pledge to help long-term unemployed

President Obama debuted a new set of hiring principles designed to end discrimination against the long-term unemployed at an event at the White House on Friday that included pledges from top companies to stop screening out the long-jobless.

"Just because you’ve been out of work for a while does not mean you’re not a harder worker," Obama said.

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The president said that the administration had "engaged employers of all sizes, all around the country… to commit to a set of inclusive hiring practices."

Obama vowed to "keep knocking down barriers" for the long term unemployed "while Congress decides whether or not" it would act to extend emergency unemployment benefits.

The event was the latest in a series of appearances following the State of the Union designed to highlight areas where Obama could take executive action to aid the economy, drawing a contrast with legislative gridlock in Congress.

According to the White House, 21 of the top 50 and 47 of the top 200 largest companies ranked by Forbes Magazine have signed on to the pledge, which will prohibit human resource departments from screening against workers who have been unemployed for more than six months. In total, 300 companies have signed on to the initiative.

Obama was joined 21 business executives and two small business owners, including the leaders of Boeing, Bank of America, Marriott, eBay, and Walgreen's.

“What we have done is to gather together 300 companies, just to start with, including, some of the top 50 companies in the country, companies like Walmart, and Apple, Ford and others, to say, ‘Let’s establish best practices,’” Obama told CNN in an interview Thursday. "Do not screen people out of the hiring process just because they’ve been out of work for a long time.”

The callback rate for resumes showing eight months of unemployment are 45 percent lower compared to those unemployed for just one month, according to the White House.

"It’s a cruel catch 22 — the longer you’re unemployed the more unemployable you may seem," Obama said.

White House economic adviser Gene Sperling said he and Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett personally reached out to many of the corporate leaders signing on to the pact.

Sperling said Obama ordered the outreach, saying the voluntary effort was "an area where we should be able to move the needle by talking directly to companies and getting them to examine their employment practices."

The proposal was widely embraced, even by corporate leaders like News Corp.'s Richard Murdoch, Sperling said. But the White House would not estimate how many individuals could benefit from the program, and did not say whether the program would reduce the overall unemployment rate.

At the event, Obama also announced $150 million in funding for "ready to work" partnerships. The programs, a joint effort between employers, nonprofit organizations, and the government, are intended to help train unemployed workers for high-skill jobs.

Funding for the program will come from fees associated with the H-1B visa program.