While nearly 14 million unemployed Americans are searching for work, some employers are limiting their hiring to preferred candidates: People who already have jobs.

Recruiters and worker advocates say companies are screening out applicants who don't have a job or who haven't worked for many months.

The unfairness — at a time when nearly 45 percent of the unemployed have been out of work for more than six months — isn't lost on the jobless.

"How ridiculous is that? We are just victims of the economy," says Terry Weigel, a 57-year-old event planner from Phoenix who lost her job in October 2009. "It's not of our choosing."

It's unclear how widespread the practice is, but it is gaining notice. A recent report by a worker advocacy group highlighted employment ads that required candidates to have a job to get one. And the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which held a hearing on the issue early this year, says it is monitoring the situation.

"We think it may be another form of hiring discrimination," says Christine Nazer, an EEOC spokeswoman.

Laws prohibit employers from discriminating against someone based on factors such as gender, race, age and disability. Unemployment isn't one of them.

Maryland Democratic Rep. Elijah E. Cummings joined fellow House Democrats last month in introducing legislation that would make it illegal for employers and employment agencies to hold applicants' unemployment against them.

Some employment specialists say they haven't encountered such bias. They say legislation isn't needed.

"I have run into the opposite because now with the qualified employees in the market, businesses are really taking the time to get the best-qualified candidate," says Rosemary Woren, who counsels laid-off workers as an outplacement coordinator with the Mayor's Office of Employment Development in Baltimore.

But area recruiters and career counselors say the practice of screening out the unemployed is alive and well.

Steve Braun, a Baltimore recruiter, says some employers assume candidates who are already working must be good performers.

"In their mind," he says, "it's taking less risk."

Debbie Shalom, a career coach in Baltimore County, says some employers believe that "the longer people are out of work, the less attuned they are to the work environment and keeping up with the skill set."

Knowing companies want candidates with jobs, Shalom says, many recruiters now troll social media sites such as LinkedIn looking for employees who can be lured away from their employers.

Screening out the unemployed also is a way for employers to get through piles of resumes.

"Every position has thousands of applicants," says Ann Boland, an executive recruiter in Catonsville. "One of the ways employers whittle their numbers is to disregard anybody not currently working. It's obviously not the wisest or most prudent approach, but it's the easiest."

After hearing complaints from unemployed workers, The National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group, reviewed help-wanted ads on major online job sites, including CareerBuilder.com, Indeed.com and Monster.com.

The group reported last month that it had found more than 150 ads by employers and staffing agencies that required applicants to have a job or be only recently unemployed.

"It's hard to quantify the full extent of the problem, but my suspicion is what we see is the tip of the iceberg," says executive director Christine Owens. "It's not just bad for those folks, it's bad for the economy."