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While employers across the nation struggle to find qualified workers, millions of working age adults in the United States do not participate in the workforce. Many members of this “Great Untapped Workforce” are hindered by barriers to employment.

Barriers to Employment (examples)


The challenges are best understood within the framework of the Talent Supply Chain:


Workforce development agencies equip disadvantaged job seekers with the technical skills and life skills required to get and hold a job. These agencies include community-based, faith-based, and governmental organizations. 

As candidates flow from left to right in this diagram, two bottlenecks are typically observed:

•   Lack of candidates. Though many job developers have effective training programs with proven success, they struggle to attract disadvantaged job seekers looking to overcome their barriers.

•   Lack of employers willing to hire. Most companies are reluctant to hire candidates with “red flags.”

The mission of America’s Job Honor Awards is to impact our culture throughout the Talent Supply Chain.



America’s Job Honor Awards does not advocate for the indiscriminate hiring of candidates with employment barriers. Until candidates have taken steps to overcome their barriers to employment, they are probably unemployable. Our premise is simply this: Candidates with barriers to employment who have been trained and vetted by a reputable workforce development agency represent no greater risk of turnover than a candidate from the general public. In fact, many employers will attest that the risk of turnover is reduced, owing to the intense scrutiny and rigorous training undergone by these candidates. Moreover, individuals who have overcome significant personal challenges frequently demonstrate remarkable work ethic and loyalty.



Contrary to popular perception, our nation's unemployment rate is not determined by the number of people collecting unemployment insurance. Many jobless Americans remain unemployed when their benefits are exhausted, and many more are ineligible for unemployment insurance or never apply for benefits. Although the media and public officials focus primarily on the unemployment rate, this figure presents a very incomplete picture of our nation's jobless citizens.

To measure our unemployment rate, the U.S. government conducts monthly surveys of around 60,000 households. Interviewers ask a series of questions related to the respondent's workforce-related activities, including whether the individual (if jobless) has made a specific effort to find a job in the previous four weeks. If the answer is no, the individual is counted as not in the labor force. In other words: to be counted among the unemployed one must be actively seeking employment. Individuals who have become discouraged and given up their job search are not included in the ranks of the unemployed.

The Labor Force Participation Rate is defined as the percentage of people* who are employed or actively seeking employment. In the United States, the Labor Force Participation Rate is currently around 63%. That means around 37% nearly 100 million Americans are not in the labor force. To be clear, this number includes full-time students, retired persons, people taking care of children or other family members, and people who are physically or mentally unable to work. But within this 37% are tens of thousands of Americans with barriers to employment who have given up looking for a job.

If our economy is to prosper despite our shrinking workforce, we can no longer afford to have more than a third of our potential workforce standing on the sidelines. We must equip more people to overcome their employment barriers and join the workforce. Our nation will benefit economically from the goods and services these citizens produce, from their taxes and purchasing power, and from the reduced burden on our public assistance programs. Employers will benefit from a committed and productive workforce. And most importantly, more of our fellow citizens will enjoy the freedom and dignity that comes with financial independence and participation in the American Dream.

* More specifically, the Labor Force Participation Rate is the percentage of the civilian noninstitutional population that is employed or actively seeking employment. The civilian noninstitutional population is defined as people 16 years of age and older residing in the 50 States and the District of Columbia who are not inmates of institutions (penal, mental facilities, homes for the aged), and who are not on active duty in the Armed Forces.

Photo above: Nomadic Lass / Photo below: Daniele Zedda

Common barriers to employment include:

  • criminal history

  • disability (both physical and intellectual)

  • drug and alcohol addiction

  • homelessness

  • long-term welfare dependence

  • lack of marketable skills

  • poor job search/interview skills

  • lack of basic computer skills

  • childcare needs

  • children with chronic health conditions

  • no reliable transportation

  • background of poverty

  • illiteracy

  • transition from military to civilian workforce

  • limited English proficiency

  • poor work history, including long gaps in employment

  • no high school diploma, GED (General Educational Development certificate) or HSED (High School Equivalency Diploma)

  • poor social skills

  • mental illness

  • age

  • employer bias related to these conditions