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Obama Appeals to Public, Private Companies to Reduce Unemployment

Dorothy Rowley | 2/1/2014, 12:48 p.m.
President Barack Obama is appealing to employers nationwide to help put thousands of jobless people back to work.
U.S. Department of Labor statistics released in December show that while the overall unemployment rate has decreased from 7 percent to 6.7 percent, joblessness among African-Americans hovers around 11.6 percent. (Courtesy photo)

President Barack Obama is appealing to employers nationwide to help put thousands of jobless people back to work.

Obama, who has vowed to support strategies that help low- and middle-income families rebound amidst a recovering economy, specifically reached out Friday to more than 300 of the nation's largest public and private companies in announcing a $150 million grant competition through the Department of Labor to place long-term unemployed citizens in vacant positions.

"While the economy is getting stronger and businesses like yours have created eight million jobs over the past four years, and with the unemployment rate lower than it's been in over five years, we all know we've still got a lot more to do to build an economy where everybody is willing to work hard and take responsibility to get ahead," Obama said during a Jan. 31 assembly of corporate officials at the White House.

"Getting people back on the job faster is one of our top priorities, but I must confess that last month Congress made that hard by letting unemployment insurance expire for more than a million people," Obama said. He added that with each week Congress fails to restore those benefits, roughly 72,000 people join the ranks of people who've been out of work for more than one year.

According to a fact sheet released following Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday, research shows long-term unemployed job applicants are frequently overlooked and sometimes excluded from job opportunities — even when they have resumes and skills identical to those of other candidates.

In addition, labor department statistics released in December, show that while the overall unemployment rate has decreased from 7.0 percent to 6.7 percent, the joblessness rate for African-Americans hovers at 11.6 percent, and 32.2 percent for blacks between the ages of 16 and 19.

MSNBC commentator and civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton contends that blacks generally face higher unemployment rates because of where they work.

"Ever since Obama has been in [office] there's been an increase in jobs in the private sector, but black unemployment has increased. Why? Because we work in the public sector," Sharpton told U.S. News last year.

In order to combat unemployment disparities, Obama is using executive authority to issue a presidential memorandum urging federal agencies adopt practices to ensure that unemployed individuals and those facing financial difficulties due to no fault of their own receive fair treatment and consideration for employment.

Among initiatives to buttress hiring are programs to recruit long-term unemployed people and strategies to get them employed in middle- to high-skill occupations.

Other measures call for raising the minimum wage to $10.10 for employees nationwide and extending emergency unemployment benefits for three months while recipients look for work.