WASHINGTON — Confronting an economic recovery slowed by persistent joblessness, President Obama won commitments Friday from more than 300 companies to reach out to the nearly 4 million Americans who have been unemployed for half a year or more.
‘‘It’s a cruel Catch-22,’’ Obama said at a White House event with CEOs, job training groups, and advocates for the unemployed. ‘‘The longer you’re unemployed, the more unemployable you may seem.’’
Obama called that ‘‘an illusion’’ because, he said, such workers are often better qualified and better educated than workers who just recently lost their jobs.
In addition to convening CEOs and getting their hiring pledges, Obama also signed a presidential memo directing federal agencies not to discriminate against those long-term unemployed workers in its own hiring practices.
As a percentage of the total labor force, the number of people who have been unemployed for more than 27 weeks — 3.9 million — is the highest in four decades. The number doesn’t include Americans who have been looking for so long that they have given up. For policy makers, the number of such workers is particularly troublesome when it persists even as the economy grows.
‘‘Just because you’ve been out of work for a while does not mean that you are not a hard worker,’’ Obama said. ‘‘Just means you had bad luck or you were in the wrong industry or you lived in a region of the country that’s catching up a little slower.’’
Even the Obama administration concedes that the outreach to companies has its limits.
‘‘This is down payment,’’ Labor Secretary Tom Perez said.
The Obama administration has been working for months to exact commitments from companies to ensure their hiring practices don’t discriminate against long-term job seekers. Among the CEOs at the White House Friday were top executives from eBay, Morgan Stanley, Boeing, Marriott International, and McDonalds.
Steps that firms committed to include doing away with candidate-screening methods that disqualify applicants based on their current employment status. It also means ensuring that job ads don’t discourage unemployed workers from applying.
The Obama administration will direct $150 million in grants toward partnership programs that retrain, mentor, and place unemployed workers.