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<thumb_whisnant_zagumnyWhen the federal government extended unemployment benefits for 99 weeks, the long-term unemployed felt a reprieve—but will accepting benefits hurt those same job seekers because employers are biased toward them?


Sara Whisnant, an undergraduate psychology major at Tennessee Tech University, is exploring employer hiring bias against the long-term unemployed. She will be working with unemployed job seekers and small businesses in the Middle Tennessee area to see how each group perceives a person's employability.

"Small businesses hire about 50 percent of workers in this area," said Whisnant. "It's important to look at the attitudes small business owners and hiring managers have toward job seekers who have received long-term benefits."

With a state unemployment rate of more than 9.5 percent , which is higher than the national rate, Whisnant's research may provide a glimpse into one barrier to employment.

Whisnant says through her research she will evaluate how long-term benefits—defined in her study as six-months or longer—determine how both employers and job seekers approach several topics:

· job search intensity

· acceptable reasons job seekers can't accept or turn down jobs offered to them while unemployed

· length of unemployment benefits

· amount of stress

· general attitude toward the benefits program.

"The basis for this type of research is evident in popular employment search sites, including Craigslist," said Matthew Zagumny, professor of counseling and psychology at TTU, who is working with Whisnant on her research. "The instructions for many employers directly say "unemployed may not apply.'

"It was shocking to me," he said. "The bias implies 'there is something wrong with you if you have been on benefits for a long time and we are looking for someone who is really good.'"

Whisnant, a senior who will graduate this December, received a Summer Research Grant Award from the Association for Psychological Science and Psi Chi International Honor Society to support her research.

"We encourage our undergraduate majors to pursue these types of research questions that can add to the knowledge available about issues that affect the everyday lives of people," said Zagumny.

Whisnant is looking to interview at least 150 employers and 150 employees who have received long-term benefits. She's received permission from the state to work with area employment offices to administer the paper survey when large groups come in for testing. She will personally contact and interview area employers.

Her initial contacts will be in the Cookeville/Crossville area, but may expand into the Nashville and Murfreesboro communities.

Employers will to take part in the study are encouraged to contact Whisnant at