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Adrian Walker

Jobless need not apply

When Bonnie Liotti lost her job as an administrative assistant last summer, she thought she would find a new one before long.

As a paralegal working in an insurance firm, the job wasn’t a perfect fit. She was working in a small company that, as she explained, didn’t have time to train her, and decided her position was expendable.

Still, after more than two decades in the workforce, she didn’t think she would have any difficulty finding a new job, even given the recession. She’s learned differently.

While it has always been easier to get a job when you have one, she’s found that some employers in this buyer’s market are turning a cold shoulder to applicants who are out of work. It is a trend that concerns state officials, an attitude about hiring that has contributed to the misery of a lot of people whose joblessness has been far more prolonged than they ever expected.

“You think you’ll send out your resume and get a job,’’ Liotti said. “But you’re competing with people who are just out of school. I thought I would have no problem getting back into my field, but I didn’t realize how many people are out of work.’’


Turns out, not having had to look for work recently doesn’t help, either. “The whole social-networking thing is new to me. You can’t just walk into a place with your resume anymore. I did not think I would have this much difficulty.’’

In this recession, it isn’t unusual for someone out of work to be looking for months. But those who work with unemployed people say they started noticing a new phenomenon a while ago - employers discouraging people without jobs from even applying, and going so far as to put their preference in print.

These aren’t necessarily CEO-level jobs, either. One Craigslist ad for a crane operator specified that applicants should be currently employed. So did an online ad for an assistant restaurant manager.


Joanne Goldstein, the state’s labor and workforce development secretary, said the practice of shunning the unemployed is apparently legal, but frustrating nonetheless.

“In a long-term recession like this one, the vast majority of the unemployed aren’t unemployed through any fault of their own,’’ Goldstein said. “We’re trying to get employers to think about this more creatively. “

She and her staff were surprised when they began to notice an increasing number of ads stressing that applicants be currently employed or recently laid off. Discouraged applicants began telling state employment counselors that the practice added to the uphill battle of looking for work.

The problem isn’t limited to Massachusetts. Goldstein said some states, such as New Jersey, have passed or are considering laws that would ban employers from refusing to consider unemployed applicants. Massachusetts is not at this point, hoping that the federal government will soon address the problem. We’ll see.

Liotti, 50, is irrepressibly optimistic. She said she never belonged in an insurance company, and that losing the job was, in that sense, a blessing. Still, joining the hard-core unemployed is tough, especially with two children at home.

“Thank goodness I’m still on unemployment,’’ she said. “My husband’s business is suffering also. We’ve cut back and cut back and now we’re down to the bone.’’

Liotti wonders if her work skills need brushing up, and has considered an unpaid internship - only to discover that those positions are going to recent law school graduates. She has thought of taking classes. She says she is hoping for a new administration in Washington, one that might be better on economic issues. But mostly, she wonders when she will find a job.


“This is a life lesson for me,’’ she said. “One that I will be able to pass along to my children. I will not be a victim, that’s for sure.’’

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.