Yep. This is isn't a request for altruism. Instead, I'd just like to point out that your company can benefit from the skills of the long-term unemployed in a number of ways:
It's not always your fault when you lose a job. For three years I handled layoffs for a Fortune 100 Company. I've literally been involved in the termination of more than 3,000 people. Some of those people? Horrible employees, no doubt. Most of them? Awesome, but in the wrong job at the wrong time. When the powers that be, for instance, decided to stop researching in a certain area, all the scientists in that division got a pink slip. Were they bad employees? Bad scientists? No. They were researching in an area that the company determined was no longer needed.
Companies often terminate employees because the market changes, company goals change, or there just isn't enough income and someone has to go. So start with the assumption that someone who was laid off was a great employee because she probably is.
They can start right now. When you hire someone unemployed, they don't need to give two or three weeks notice. They haven't got a pre-planned trip to Bermuda because they are running low on vacation cash. You make the decision to hire today, and that person can be at his desk just as soon as you finish that background check.
Salary demands can be lower. Nobody wants to make less money today than they did yesterday, but the reality is, what is "acceptable" to you changes considerably after a long term period of unemployment. If you're concerned about someone because of their employment gap, say so, and say, "I'm concerned because you've been out of the field for two years, but I know you did this type of thing in the past. I'm going to offer you a salary of $X, but I intend to revisit that after six months if things are going well." And then write out clear goals and revisit the salary after six months. If you have no intention of raising a salary to market rates after six months, don't promise this. Just say, "This job pays $X."
They have no desire to continue job hunting. Lots of people are passive job hunters, always putting themselves out there and always somewhat "looking" for the next best thing. However, when you've been job hunting for 18 months or more, the last thing you want to do is go on another job interview. Now, of course, if you give the candidate a super lower salary offer, it will be more likely that she'll continue to look for a new job, but if you pay what's fair, this person has even less of a reason to look around than the super star you stole from your competitor.
There are great people out there. Some of them are victims of the economy. Some are moms and dads who have been home with the little darlings and are now ready to come back. They didn't lose all their brain cells when they stopped punching a clock. They were awesome before and will be awesome again. Try them.
Use your own brain. Interviewing someone because another company hasn't fired that person yet is lazy hiring. You're allowing another company to determine if someone has value to your company. Why would you do that? Evaluate candidates based on what they can do for you, not on the fact that they currently have jobs. After all, we've all met really awful employed people. Think through this yourself.
It is the right thing to do. Okay, maybe it's a little altruistic. Giving someone a chance is the right thing to do. The long-term unemployed are struggling. Bills don't go away just because the paycheck does. You may have to look more closely at a prospect's credit report--a lack of income tends to not help your credit--but that's not likely to be a deal breaker. (Remember, you should really only be using credit reports for jobs where it truly makes a difference and follow strict guidelines.)
So, whether your love Obama or hate him, this is one area where you should sign on. Don't reject candidates because they have an employment gap. Look at the big picture instead. You may find some great new hires.