WASHINGTON — Chief executives from 21 companies gathered at the White House on Friday, bringing with them a pledge not to unfairly weed out the long-term unemployed in their hiring process.
About 300 businesses — including Apple Inc., EBay Inc., Gap Inc., Pacific Gas & Electric Corp., 21st Century Fox Inc., Walt Disney Co. and Magic Johnson Enterprises — signed the document, which promises not to discriminate against job applicants solely because they have been out of work for extended stretches.
The companies also agreed to ensure that their 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.
The promise was part of a White House effort to draw attention to the plight of the jobless as President Obama continues to push Congress to extend jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed.
Obama addressed the executives at the event, saying that these job seekers need a "fair shot."
"They just need that chance, somebody who will look past that stretch of unemployment," Obama said. "They just need employers to realize it doesn't reflect at all on their abilities or their values; it just means they've been dealing with the aftermath of this really tough job market, and all they need is a fair shot."
Long-term unemployment has become a persistent legacy of the economic crisis.
As the private sector added 2.2 million jobs over the last year, the short-term unemployment rate fell to its pre-recession average. But the long-term unemployment rate remains more than double the average before the financial crisis, according to a White House report released Friday.
As of December, nearly 4 million Americans had been unemployed for 27 weeks or more, and 2.6 million of them had been searching for jobs for a year or more, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Since long-term unemployment benefits expired in December, the president and his Democratic allies in Congress have tried to pass an extension. The White House said 1.6 million Americans have lost benefits since then and an additional 4.9 million could see their 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 that found the interview "callback rate" was significantly lower for job applicants who have been out of work for several months — even if their resumes are similar to those of other applicants.
The president has been looking for ways to demonstrate that he will not be hemmed in by congressional deadlock.
In his State of the Union address this week, Obama declared that he would expand his use of executive power. And in a just-completed two-day, four-state tour, the president touted new actions he has taken to overhaul job training, bolster retirement savings and improve public education.
The corporate pledge was part of that effort.
The pledge was drafted over several months with input from companies, White House economic advisor Gene Sperling said. He and other top aides reached out personally to chief executives seeking their cooperation.
The White House took a "positive approach" to the problem, Sperling said, and noted that signing the document was not an admission that companies have discriminated against people out of work for an extended time.
Obama said he would order the federal government to follow the practices in the pledge. He also announced a $150-million grant program for nonprofit organizations that work to help the long-term unemployed polish their job-hunting skills and find openings.