It’s one of those lines always quoted at frustrated office-workers ready to go out full computer-smashing, Office Space-style and find something better: It’s a lot easier to find a job when you’ve already got one. But it turns out, that’s not just a nugget of folk wisdom; employers have taken to actually specifying in jobs ads that applicants must be currently employed. These ads, according to the Times, “cover jobs at all skill levels, including hotel concierges, restaurant managers, teachers, I.T. specialists, business analysts, sales directors, account executives, orthopedics device salesmen, auditors and air-conditioning technicians. It’s particularly cruel in this recession, where so many — 14 million people, and the average time spent out of work is nine months — have seen their bouts with unemployment stretch over into the “long-term” classification.
The problem is so acute, in fact, that New Jersey has made it illegal to explicitly discourage the long-term unemployed from applying; other states are considering taking the same action, but there’s probably not room for a broader legal claim, like a class action discrimination suit, since the “unemployed” is too inchoate a group to file as a bloc. And there’s also a legitimate legal argument to be made that people who have been out of work for a while might be, well, rusty: Their skills could be out of date or they might not be as well-adjusted to the pace of the job, and so employers looking for the best possible worker might be justified in looking elsewhere. Whether that’s true for an individual or not, hiring managers often guess it to be true, based on the broader sample — and so the cycle continues. It’s a bleak enough picture to make those of us lucky enough to have jobs want to hug our bosses next time they ask a bleak task of us — writing depressing posts about the economy, for instance, has never seemed like such a precious experience.