Obama receives pledges from big business on unemployed

WASHINGTON -- President Obama will urge major businesses in his State of the Union Address to pledge not to discriminate against long-term unemployed Americans.

White House aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview aspects of the speech, confirmed Obama will make the call in his address, which is expected to cover a great deal of his domestic and foreign policy agenda for the next year.

Ahead of his speech, the Obama administration has called on several large corporations to sign a White House pledge agreeing not to discriminate against the long-term unemployed when making hiring decisions, according to the aides.

Among the companies to confirm they have agreed to sign the pledge are Xerox and Lockheed Martin.

"We have long-standing policies and a strong commitment to diversity and non-discrimination at Xerox," said Karen Arena, vice president of global communications for the company. "Signing this pledge is affirming that long-held principle and demonstrating our support for any and all initiatives that break down the barriers around discrimination."

Obama is also likely to focus much of his attention on rising income inequality while outlining ways that he'll try to get around House Republicans to move forward with his agenda.

The president is expected to call on Congress to pass an immigration bill and raise the minimum wage, and he also is likely to wade into areas where he may assert executive authority, such as education, energy and economic development.

In addressing long-term unemployment, Obama may highlight a strategy called "sector partnerships." The public-private partnerships are designed to bring together firms in the same industry with local colleges and community-based organizations to provide training in the skills that local companies need.

Ahead of the address, the White House has reached out to groups working with the long-term unemployed and asked for examples of Americans who have previously gone through such training programs and have been able to find jobs as a result, of them, said Joshua Spaulding, communications director of the National Skills Coalition.

On Friday, Obama will highlight how public-private partnerships can help alleviate the challenge of long-term unemployment at an event at the White House.

The event, which the White House has yet to publicly announce, "will be an opportunity to shine a spotlight on some of the most promising approaches for getting the long-term unemployed back to work and to discuss best practices companies can take around hiring and recruiting the long-term unemployed," according to an invitation obtained by USA TODAY.

The administration will continue the tradition of inviting guests to sit with first lady Michelle Obama and other officials during the State of the Union address.

This year's guests include Carlos Arredondo and Jeff Bauman, survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing in April, and Jason Collins, the former National Basketball Association player who announced last year he is gay.

Other guests: Gary Bird, the fire chief of tornado-ravaged Moore, Okla.; Kathy Hollowell-Makle, a Teacher of the Year from Washington, D.C.; and Joey Hudy, a 16-year-old entrepreneur who displayed his "EXTREME marshmallow cannon" for Obama at a White House Science Fair at age 16.

At least one yet-to-be-determined Cabinet member will stay away from Capitol Hill during Obama's speech.

Obama will follow up his State of the Union address with a two-day national tour designed to sell the policies he discusses in his speech to Congress. He starts Wednesday morning at Costco wholesale store in Lanham, Md., then flies to Pittsburgh for another speech before going on to Milwaukee to spend the night.

The president also has speeches scheduled Thursday in Milwaukee and Nashville before returning to the White House.

The president is also scheduled to take questions from Internet users nationwide during a Google+ Hangout.


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