Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Great Depression Don't Have Anything On These Numbers

The unemployed have, on average, remained unemployed longer than in the 1930s; Employers wary of job gaps in resumes.

There is an unfortunate adage for the unemployed: The longer folks are out of a job, the longer it takes them to find a new one.

CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy reports that the chronically unemployed face the hardest road back to recovery, and that while the jobs picture may be improving statistically on a national level, it is not for them. 
Ben Tracy

Tinong Nwachan, for example, has far too much time on his hands. When CBS News met the former truck driver he had been out of work for two years.

"I don't really tell too many people this but I'm not ashamed or nothing, I'm homeless," Nwachan said.

Summer job bummer: Teen unemployment 24 percent

Nearly 14 million Americans are looking for work

"They're saying there are more jobs, but I'm just wondering where those jobs are," Lambrecht said.

About 6.2 million Americans, 45.1 percent of all unemployed workers in this country, have been jobless for more than six months - a higher percentage than during the Great Depression.
Some of the 45.1% Unemployed

The bigger the gap on someone's resume, the more questions employers have.

"Employers think: 'Oh, well, there must be something really wrong with them because they haven't gotten a job in 6 months, a year, 2 years.' But that's not necessarily the case," said Marjorie Gardner-Cruse with the Hollywood Worksource Center.

The problem of course is the economy, but some industries, especially certain manufacturing jobs, are not ever expected to come back. Experts say unemployed workers need to be prepared to change careers, they have to realize that, discover what field they want to work in, become trained and find a job in that field," said Jerry Nickelsburg, Sr., an economist at UCLA.

Here's another problem: more than 1 million of the long-term unemployed have run out of unemployment benefits, leaving them without the money to get new training, buy new clothes, or even get to job interviews.

If you have been unemployed for 6 months or more, it takes a much deeper toll - not just on your personal finances and your career prospects - but on your emotional well-being.

Dr David Fryer, a psychologist from Stirling University in Scotland, has studied the psychological effects of unemployment for 14 years. He told an audience at Massey University last month that research into the effects of unemployment over the last 60yrs has produced `worryingly consistent findings'. His studies showed that up to 40% of unemployed people suffered psychological distress.

Fryer says that many official intervention programmes aimed at helping unemployed people only increased the mental health costs of unemployment. He says that Social Policy couldn't be designed much more effectively to exaggerate the risk of mental health problems.
Dr David Fryer

Fryer gave the 1994 C.S.Myers lecture at the Psychological Society's annual conference. We here give an essential summary of this lecture on Dr Fryer's research into unemployment as a mental health issue.

It is one of the major achievements of recent research to have demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that unemployment causes, rather than merely results from, poor psychological health [...] studies spanning time, cultures, research groups and research methods converge in their conclusions that unemployment is associated with poor mental health. For many, the most impressive contemporary input has been made by researchers using quantitative psychological methods.

Anxiety, depression, dissatisfaction with one's present life, experienced strain, negative self-esteem, hopelessness regarding the future and other negative emotional states ... have each been demonstrated in cross-sectional studies to be higher in unemployed people than in matched groups of employed people.

There is also an emerging consensus that the physical, as well as mental health of unemployed people is also generally lower than that of employed people. 
Marie Jahoda

Marie Jahoda in 1980 said that employment is a social institution with objective consequences that occur for all effected by it, overriding individual differences in feelings, thoughts, motivation and purpose. Some of these, like earning a living, are intended or manifest. Others are unintended or latent.

According to Jahoda: " employment makes the following categories of experience inevitable : it imposes a time structure on the waking day; it compels contacts and shared experiences with others outside the nuclear family; it demonstrates that there are goals and purposes which are beyond the scope of an individual but require a collectivity; it imposes status and social identity through the division of labor in modern employment; it enforces activity..."

Crucially, unemployment is said by Jahoda to damage mental health because of the psychological deprivation of these unintended consequences of employment which normally function as psychological supports.

Back in 1936, German investigations showed that unemployment among German parents brings about a drop in the school marks of two thirds of their children. Where unemployment was very long term, they reported a further decline in school work. More recent Dutch work has also found poorer school performance in children with unemployed fathers.

McLoyd in 1989 concluded, after an extensive literature review, that children with unemployed fathers are at risk of `socio-emotional problems, deviant behavior, and reduced aspirations and expectations. The child may also model the somatic complaints of the father...'. McLoyd cites specific evidence regarding: mental health problems, withdrawal from peers, depression, loneliness, emotional sensitivity, distrustfulness, decreased sociability and low self-esteem.

Research by McKee and Bell in 1986 points to the difficulties spouses, generally female partners of unemployed men, face in trying to manage on reduced income, to cope with the spouses' intrusive presence in the household, to support distressed partners and deal with intra-family conflict.

Some of the effects of unemployment may persist into the period of re-employment. Kaufman in 1982 found that one fifth of his sample of re-employed professionals were under-employed i.e. had had to accept jobs which were inferior in terms of salary, type of work and use of skills. Only 47% reported their lives had returned to normal following re-employment. Further research has shown that re-employment is likely to be at a lower level and the re-employed people more vulnerable to future redundancy due to last in, first out practices.

The researcher Fineman in 1987 followed up a previously unemployed sample of people and found those re-employed in jobs which they felt were inadequate were experiencing more stress, and even poorer self-esteem, than they had during their period of unemployment. Half of Fineman's re-employed informants had what he described as `legacy' effects, whatever the quality of the new job. This legacy took of feeling there was a lasting blemish or stigma on their work record, of continuing doubts about their abilities, of personal failure. Organizationally they were prepared to give less of themselves to their new jobs.

There is a massive literature on occupational stress, increasingly referred to as strain. A traditional way of coping with such strain has been to change jobs. However, in recessional labor market conditions, people are increasingly likely to become trapped in psychologically distressing jobs.

A survey of 3,000 young people over eight years in South Australia asked about their job satisfaction. The study found that those employed youngsters who were dissatisfied with their jobs were indistinguishable in terms of mental health scores from the unemployed youngsters.


  1. It is so sad that our country has come to this and I am afraid it will get even worse. We survived the last depression and we will survive this one but it won't be fun.

  2. Effective and creative economic reform is badly needed in this kind of set up.