WASHINGTON (AFP) - President Barack Obama Friday took aim at the "illusion" that workers who have spent months or years without a job are unemployable, harnessing the support of top US firms like Apple, Walmart and Boeing.
Mr Obama secured pledges from CEOs and human resources directors to ensure that employment recruitment and screening practices do not discriminate against the long term unemployed.
"Every job applicant deserves a fair shot," Mr Obama said at a White House event gathering CEOs of top firms and owners of small businesses. The initiative was Mr Obama's latest effort to narrow the disparity between the well off in America and the struggling middle class, a theme that underpinned his State of the Union address on Tuesday and will anchor the rest of his presidency.
"Folks who've been unemployed the longest often have the toughest time getting back to work," Mr Obama said. "It's a cruel Catch-22 - the longer you're unemployed, the more unemployable you may seem," he said. "Now this is an illusion, but it's one that, unfortunately, we know statistically is happening out there."
Signatories to the pledge include US giants such as Apple Inc, The Boeing Company, The Walt Disney Company, Visa and Mastercard, Walmart, Xerox and Lockheed Martin.
White House officials said that the pledge list includes 21 of America's 50 biggest firms, and a total of 80 large companies and 200 small and medium-sized businesses.
The president matched the pledges from the corporate world by signing a memorandum requiring the federal government to adopt similar hiring practices. The White House was unable to say how many unemployed workers could be helped the new initiative.
Officials say that despite consistent job growth in the wake of the worst recession since the Great Depression that has reduced the unemployment rate down to 6.7 per cent, long term unemployment remains a serious problem.
The long-term unemployment rate currently stands at 2.5 per cent, more than double the 1.0 per cent average in the months before the financial crisis, according to a White House report released Friday.