President Obama unveiled a new program Friday to help the long-term unemployed return to the work force. Speaking to a room full of business owners and non-profit leaders, Obama announced what he called a new set of "best practices" designed to encourage businesses to more fairly consider workers who have been without a job for many months.
"Folks who have been unemployed the longest often have the toughest time getting back to work," Obama said. "It's a cruel Catch-22. The longer you've been unemployed, the more unemployable you may seem." Businesses will be encouraged - voluntarily - to look at their hiring practices and see how they can be changed to be less prejudiced against those who are not currently working.
Obama highlighted the need for job training programs that match job-seekers with local industries in need of skilled workers. He also directed Vice President Joe Biden to lead an effort to reform job training programs and pledged $150 million in funds for "ready to work" partnerships across the country.
"The federal government will lead by example," the president said of his order to review its own screening and hiring practices. "I'm directing every federal agency to make sure we're evaluating candidates on the level."
While announcing the new program, Obama again criticized Congress for letting unemployment insurance expire last month, a move that left more than 1.3 million people without benefits and could affect up to 1.9 million more by June. He also reiterated his promise to act where Congress will not from Tuesday's State of the Union address. "Giving up on the unemployed will create a drag on our economy that we cannot tolerate," he said.