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Companies pledge to aid Obama initiative for long-term unemployed

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WASHINGTON -- Chief executives from 20 companies are slated to gather at the White House on Friday, bringing with them a pledge not to unfairly weed out the long-term unemployed when they hire.

About 300 businesses -- including 20 Fortune 50 companies -- have signed a document promising not to discriminate against job applicants solely because they have been out of work for extended stretches.

They agreed to ensure hiring practices don’t “intentionally or inadvertently disadvantage individuals from being considered for a job based solely on their unemployment status,” according to the pledge.

At the gathering, President Obama also will announce a $150-million grant program for nonprofit organizations working to connect the long-term unemployed with companies and develop interviewing, networking and other skills that could put them back in the workforce, the White House said.

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The event comes as Obama is looking for ways to demonstrate he will not be hemmed in by a deadlocked Congress. He declared his plans to use his executive power in his State of the Union address Tuesday, and just completed a two-day, four-state tour touting new action on job training, retirement savings and education.

Since jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed expired in December, the president and Democrats have tried and failed to push an extension through the divided Congress. The White House says 1.6 million Americans have lost their benefits since then and an additional 4.9 million people could see payments run out this year.

The White House did not have an estimate on how many more people might find work under the new initiative to change hiring practices. Officials cited surveys finding that the interview "callback rate" was significantly lower for those who have been out of work for several months -- even if  their resumes are comparable to other applicants. 

The pledge was drafted over several months with input from companies, said White House economic advisor Gene Sperling. He and other top aides reached out personally to chief executives seeking cooperation in the project. 

Participants include industry leaders from all sectors, including Apple, Wal-Mart, Bank of America, Viacom and Morgan Stanley.

The White House took a “positive approach,” Sperling said, and noted that signing the document was not an admission of problems with past hiring practices.

The goal is to “establish best practices," Obama said in an interview with CNN on Thursday. "Do not screen people out of the hiring process just because they've been out of work for a long time.”

Officials said the president would sign a memorandum ordering federal agencies to also follow the practices in the pledge.

The White House has been soliciting commitments from other groups on issues on which congressional action is unlikely.

Dozens of college and university presidents have pledged to do more to make their institutions accessible and supportive of low-income students, for example.

Obama has said he plans a similar effort around his push to expand access to early education.
 
kathleen.hennessey@latimes.com

Twitter: @khennessey

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