The Psychological Effects of Long Term Unemployment

Research paper I wrote in 2012 while working on my BFA Graphic Design. I would later go on to obtain my MS Human Computer Interaction. For further detail in my life during this time, I invite you to read my blog https://carincamen.com/blogs/cc-updates/view-my-resume-today-vmrt 

“So what? I have a job!”

Dispelling the Biases about the Psychological Effects of Long-Term Unemployment

 

The Psychological Effects of Long Term UnemploymentThe long-term unemployment rate (LTU) has been steadily rising for the past 5 years during this great recession. Although you may say, “So what, I have a job and it doesn’t effect me.”, bringing to light the communal and personal effects of (LTU), the argument is presented that the psychological effects of long-term unemployment, goes beyond the individual who is unemployed. The effects of housing, crime, suicide, business success, divorce rates, and economic decline, are felt by all.

Gaining greater insight into the psychological effects of long-term unemployment and the ramifications that occur to the individual, community, state, and nation allows us to re-analyze our previous thoughts and opinions associated with the 12 million unemployed individuals in our nation. In this paper I have used a combination of research, interview, and first-hand knowledge to bridge the gap of bias against this massive amount of individuals, who fall into the long-term unemployed category. I have not delved into the depths of psychosis associated with long-term unemployed, I will leave that to the medical community. I have instead provided insight into the world of the long-term unemployed providing evidence of their plight and struggle in obtaining work.

Defining the Long-term Unemployed

 Who are the long-term unemployed? They are those individuals who have been unemployed longer than 27 weeks. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the calculation of unemployment was accomplished by surveying individuals who have not worked for an entire week, were actively seeking work, and who were available to accept a position to work. (Schmitt, Jones)

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics charted the current unemployment number as 11.7 million with 5.7 million falling into the long-term unemployed. However, according to Kate Kahan and George Wentworth in the article “Out of Work and Out of Luck”, those numbers are highly inaccurate due to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics not taking into account, the individuals who have fallen off the unemployment records due to their no longer receiving benefits and have stopped looking for work. (Kahan, Wentworth) Currently there are no systems in place to track those who fall off the unemployment insurance data collection.

Thus, we must take into account other methods of breaking down the process of calculating unemployment. It began with the definition of “Marginally Attached” workers. These workers were not considered unemployed because, they did not look for work four weeks prior to taking the survey. In the years 2010 and 2011 the LTU rate was 40% of the “Marginally Attached” Category. (Schmitt, Jones)

Next, we define the “Discouraged Workers”. These individuals are separate from the “Marginally Attached” workers category. The “Discouraged Worker” has looked for work in the past 12 months but has given up searching for work recently, due to their lost confidence in their ability to find work. Finally, the last category was the “Part-Time for Economic Reasons” workers. These individuals work less than 35 hours a week and took part time positions because of their inability to obtain full time work. The majority of, these individuals make substantially less than their previous employment.

In the article by John Schmitt and Janelle Jones untitled “America’s “New Class” A Profile of the Long-Term Unemployed” they state,

“Columbia University economist Till von Wachter summarized research connecting unemployment with: abuse and long-lasting earning losses, enduring employment and earnings instability, a higher incidence of poverty, higher rates of divorce, reduced physical and mental health, increased rates of disability, declines in life expectancy, and adverse impacts on the children of the unemployed (including poor educational outcomes and lower adult earnings).” (Schmitt, Jones)

This new class contains highly educated and skilled individuals, many who were at the top of their field, and through no fault of their own became victims to the great recession. Many of these individuals have lost their homes, their savings, and their retirement plans. They have exhausted their ability for government assistance. The lucky ones, are the ones that have a strong network of support with family and friends, who have assisted them financially until they can regain employment. You will find in this group, that many have returned to school to obtain new skills and would eagerly show you the stacks of papers which contain all the application and efforts they have gone through to return to the working force. In a time when many of them should be continuing to enjoy the peak of their careers, they have instead found themselves in an abyss with no apparent hope of escaping.

The Employer vs The Employee

In tracking the dynamics and distinguishing the cause of our Long-term Unemployment numbers we have to, take into consideration the conflicting challenges between those who employ, and those who are employed. This interaction not only affected the current employer, but also encompassed other business’s ability to employ.

Businesses that laid off workers resulting in at least 50 claims of Unemployment Insurance in a five-week period fall into the category of the Mass Layoff Worker. These business account for a larger amount, of individuals going from employed to unemployed. Almost 11 percent of the total unemployed were laid off from large corporations and businesses. It was found that these individuals tended to be older than the medium unemployed individual and fell into the long-term unemployed category more quickly. (Handwerker, Mason)

Another aspect of our analysis would include the financial stress level associated with businesses and individuals. To maintain and preserve their business, many employers have incorporated a reduction of workforce while still requiring the same production. This business strategy has allowed many businesses to maintain their financial liquidity. This strategy maintains their ability to keep their doors open until this economic downfall recovers. Through analyzing the effects of the failure of one business, it can be seen how their downfall became the catalyst for neighboring business’s to fail. We saw an example of how an increase in the financial stress index has a dramatic effect into the recovery of our nation’s economy. When one business laid off employees, the cause and effect theory is felt with the diminishing buying power of neighboring business services or goods which in turn accelerates the decision to continue the trend of employee layoffs.

“Based on the downturns experienced in the Great Depression and the recent meltdown, it stands to reason that when the financial system is already highly stressed, further increases in the financial stress may have more deleterious consequences than when we are in a relatively low-stress environment;” (Potts)

During the Great Depression of 1930, businesses were required to contribute to unemployment insurance. The federal government began to require states to collect unemployment insurance from businesses through payroll tax to assist the state funding for unemployment insurance benefits. Currently the federal government has “picked up the tab”, for providing benefits for the unemployed who have gone beyond 27 weeks and has done so without asking anymore assistance from the states or businesses. However, Dan Russo in his article “Unemployment Compensation & Extending Benefits-What Employers Need to Know” argues that should the burden of extending the benefits to the unemployed be shifted to the state and employer, it would substantially increase their financial stress.

“For an employer with an unemployment tax rate of 4.0 percent in a state such as California, where the state taxable wage base is currently only $7,000, the cost per employee would increase from $280 to $600. This represents a tax increase of $320 (114 percent) per employee. And this figure would continue to rise each year as the states keep pace with annual increases in the federal wage base due to indexing.” (Russo)

Taking into account, this scenario and basing it on the previous understanding of the financial stress index, one can quickly understand the effects on businesses that results from having 12 million Americans unemployed. The financial stress increased on these businesses from the diminishing purchase of products and services, by the unemployed individuals adds to the financial stress put on them should their payroll tax be increased. The additional financial stress associated with the payroll tax provides state assistance for compensation to the unemployed through unemployment insurance. (Russo) Therefore, we have gained an appreciation and understanding of the arguments that have lead to biased thinking of, “they are to lazy to get a job and would rather take a government handout”.

Jeremy Schwartz, in his article “Unemployment Insurance and the Business Cycle: What Adjustments are Needed?”, makes the claim that by increasing the unemployment insurance benefits to 99 weeks and adding an additional $25 a week, has only assisted in prolonging our economic downfall. This was due to those recipients receiving benefits being less motivated to seek employment. The increase of the unemployment benefits was financed through the Emergency Extended Benefits program which of course was funded in part by working individuals paying taxes. (Schwartz) By viewing the financial stress increase to businesses and the working class, one can again understand how these biases have occurred. While we can appreciate the mindset involved in the development of these biases, we would argue in the benefit of the unemployed who have sustained substantial loss due to our nation’s economic factors instead of actions directly tied to the unemployed. These biases, promoted by Schwartz does not assist in providing resolution to the problem of 12 million individuals unemployed, but rather continued to promote fundamental issues that were the foundation to the collapse of job creation and the hesitance to hire long-term unemployed.

Theorizing the Psychological Effects of Long-term Unemployment

 It was with this foundation to understanding who the long-term unemployed are, how they became, and what assisted in the biases against them, that we began a dialogue that explored the depth and length of the psychological ramifications associated with the long-term unemployed. These effects could be categorized into two categories, Internal Effects and External Effects. The first category of Internal Effects, were connected directly to the individual and their close relationships. These would include:

  • Depression
  • Break down in relationships
  • Increase in drinking and drug use
  • Increase in abuse
  • Suicide

The second category of External Effects would include:

  • The decline in local businesses due to mass layoffs in the area
  • An increased crime rate
  • The decline of housing prices due to increased foreclosures
  • Increased financial stress associated with tax increase and diminished purchase of products and services

  • The catalyst effect of one business failure causing the failure of surrounding businesses
  • Suicide

Thus, we could see that with 12 million Americans out of work, the psychological effects that were associated with long-term unemployed, blend into those who once may have professed, “It’s not my problem, I have a job.”

External Effects - Community, Business, Crime, Suicide

 In viewing the lists in the two categories above, one may question why suicide was included in both the internal and external effects categories. The argument of external effects started with the extension to the community surrounding long-term unemployed, and must begin with the varying aspects of suicide results. When the suicide factor was increased with long-term unemployed, the effects were not only associated with the internal effects that were felt by the immediate family and friends, but in many cases they extended out to the community. Long-term unemployed, who have exhausted their savings, resources, and government benefits such as unemployment insurance, were usually not capable of leaving their surviving family members with future financial stability. This often can escalate the dependence of government assistance to provide for the surviving spouse and children and increase the tax burden on the community.

Alexander Crosby’s theory defined how the stress of a downturn of individual financial ability contributed to their psychological decline and feelings of hopelessness for the long-term unemployed. In his journal “Impact of Business Cycles on US Suicide Rates”, Cosby establishes that suicide was the 11th leading cause of death and was contributed by economic factors experienced by the individual who commits suicide. Crosby expands his argument by breaking down the statistics based on age groups. This analysis provided a deeper understanding and clarifying factors that contribute to the suicide rate during our nation’s time of prosperity and time of expansion.

The impact of suicide and the business structure cycles were compared and contrasted with the understanding that these suicides occur not just with the individuals who may have been laid off, but with business owners who have lost their businesses due to the decline of consumer purchase of their products or services. This decline occurs most often when transitory income was displaced.

Matz Dahlber and Magnus Gustasson’s article “Inequality and Crime: Separating the Effects of Permanent and Transitory Income” broke down income into the two categories of permanent and transitory. Transitory income was the income that an individual has above and beyond the expenses associated with the basics such as housing and food. The consumers ability to purchase products and services was the income that most businesses rely. In a declining economy, trips to the salon, gym, and movie theaters may see a diminished turnout. Likewise, purchases not involving the necessities to sustain life may put off for recovering times. The decline in the purchases that once proved a necessity for quality of life now undergo the scrutiny of being a luxury instead of a need. It was with that preface that we delved into the psychological effects of long-term unemployed that emerge into an understanding of desperation and what measures individuals in the long-term unemployed category may be willing to take.

Permanent income was the income that one depends on to provide for the basics of life such as housing or food. As stated above, transitory income was the income that one has left over after covering the basics. Dahlber and Gustavsson found that when the transitory income was depleted that little change occurred, However, when the permanent income was no longer available the desperation of not being able to have the means for shelter and food could increase the risk of becoming engaged into criminal behavior and the possibility of joining gangs.

“...people who perceive their poverty as permanent may be driven by hostile impulses rather than rational pursuit of their interest. Wilson and Daly (1997) hypothesize that sensitivity to inequality, especially by those at the bottom, leads to higher risk tactics such as crime when the expected pay-offs from low risk tactics are poor.” (Dahlberg, Magnus)

 The increase of crime has also been associated with a change in the gang structure. Gangs could be categorized as larger gang with less violent gang requirements or smaller gangs with more violent gang requirements. In the journal, “Unemployment and Gang Crime: Can Prosperity Backfire?” Panu Poutvaara and Mikael Priks argued that the transition for an individual to leave a larger gang and move to a smaller gang occurred when unemployment became part of the equation. (Poutvaara, Priks)

It was here that the discussion of age and race was included into the argument of the psychological effects of long-term unemployed extended beyond the current individual. The adverse ability to obtain work was associated with gang members. These members had to determine which gang option best suited their needs in providing the stability to obtain the basics of life and the hope of financially bettering their lives.

“One alternative is to select a highly demanding required level of crime that results in small groups with a high level of crime per member. The cost is that the leader has fewer followers to give him prestige. The other alternative is to go for a less-demanding requirement, leading to a large group. Our analysis reveals that a reduction in unemployment may encourage leaders to either marginally moderate their demands, or to radically change to smaller gangs with more crime.” (Poutvaara, Mikael)

The increase of gang structure and crime was directly contributed to the increased ramifications that are associated with individuals that are employed and not one of the long-term unemployed. Those who maintained their employment were at a higher risk of being a victim of crime.

Internal Effects - Individual, Relationships, Suicide

 To expand the research to take in personal accounts of individuals who were experiencing long-term unemployment and the affects in their personal lives, I interviewed a gentleman who, to protect his identity, was named John Doe. Mr. Doe was found through extending a request through social media avenues to interview those individuals who fell into the long-term unemployed category. There were two individuals who initially made contact, but Mr. Doe was the only one which followed through. It can be questioned if the lack of response was due to the biases associated with the long-term unemployed and their desire to remain hidden in the shadows of their unemployment world.

John Doe was a highly skilled photographer and videographer who once enjoyed working 35-47 weddings per year. With the decline of the economy, Doe began to not only see a decline in the number of requests for wedding video-graphing services, but a decline in the price he could charge for his services. This was due to the wedding couple using family or friends to video and photograph their wedding event, in order to cut back on expenses. Another factor was the increase of photographers and videographers coming into the industry, in an effort to maintain their financial stability, after losing their employment. The loss to Doe has resulted in decreasing his business to a mere 18-29 weddings per year.

The transition to Doe’s household occurred when both he and his wife searched for additional employment and his wife was the first to secure a new job. Previously, a full stay-at- home mother, Mrs. Doe now became the primary breadwinner of the family and Mr. Doe became a Mr. Mom. It was at that point that Doe became more aware of the biases that occurred against him for being in a nontraditional role. These biases came from a variety of individuals, but have been noticed more by him, from his own wife. The declining relationship which he feels has taken place between him and his wife he contributes, to the length of time he has not been able to secure full employment and return to be the main provider of the family. After asking if he felt that his children had been affected with the switch of traditional roles, Doe expressed that he did not see any negative effects on his children with him taking the Mr. Mom role. He expressed that he fell into a different situation than many of the long-term unemployed due to his wife obtaining strong employment. Doe felt his children enjoyed having him being actively participating in taking them to their extra-curricular activities, but he felt some resentment from his wife who use to enjoy that privilege.

Judith K Hellerstein and Melinda Sandler Morrill in their journal article “Booms, Busts, and Divorce” claimed that divorce tends to decrease during economic challenging times, due to the fact that couples did not have the financial resources to pay for the divorce or to have the ability to maintain two households. Thus, couples tended to stay together during economic troubling times until the family’s financial stability returned. It was at that point that many couples, then proceeded with divorce. This is attributed to the relationship taking a serious decline due to the financial stress that occurred with unemployment. (Hellerstein, Morrill)

Doe, who falls into the 40-50-year-old age bracket, has returned to school and obtained a web design certificate. He still struggles to increase his ability to obtain work with this new skill. Part of his difficulty he admitted, is his lack of confidence that has occurred, due to the length of time that he had been out of a traditional job and in the knowledge that his wife employment had allowed him the luxury of being more selective in his employment choices. Doe admitted that he was not comfortable in an interview situation and could improve his skills in the area of looking for work outside of the traditional resources, as well as increasing his interviewing skills.

Moreover, Doe had experienced several turn downs of jobs that he had applied for, which only increased his lack of confidence.

When asked for solutions to assist those who fall into the long-term unemployed category, Doe stated, that many were returning back to school to gain new skills and it would be helpful if the schools had programs which graduating students could be introduced to companies who were looking to hire. He felt that this benefit would also encourage more enrollment into the school’s program due to the interest in not only providing an educational experience, but the school taking a more active role in assisting the long-term unemployed into relocating back into the job force.

Doe is not alone in his struggles with confidence and skill in marketing and selling himself in this new arena of job search. It was with my experience in working with real estate agents who were experiencing a decline in the income, that we come to the philosophy that even those individuals who worked in the sales and marketing field, struggled when it came to increase their skills in selling and marketing themselves. Their unpreparedness to compete in an extensive competitive jobs market, combined with their loss of confidence left them at a disadvantage in competing for jobs that now receive thousands of resumes for one position.

Books such as Donald Ashers “Cracking the Hidden Job Market” and Erik Deckers and Kyle Lacy’s “Branding Yourself” had become resources in obtaining new tools to combat the challenging job market of today. Asher addressed how despite the challenges in the economy, there were businesses hiring every day. The challenge to today’s job seeker was that the majority of those positions never made it to the job posting boards. Never before had the need to know individuals in key positions been more important in obtaining work.

“I have good news for you; people want to help you. They actually want to assist you in your job search. But they can only help you if you approach them correctly, if you’ll help them help you...Instead, follow these rules for contacting people in your job search:

    1. Don’t ask them for a job
    2. Know precisely what job you’re curious
    3. Favor open-ended questions; avoid yes-or-no
    4. Assume everyone has some information that will be useful to you
    5. Remember that you want to connect to people with information, whether or not they have any (Asher, pg 84)

Asher promoted the philosophy, to stop asking for a job and instead engage in asking for information. This tactic would provide gaining information about the company, what they are looking for in an employee, and what positions were being expanded. Asher explained how this advantage of making a good first impression with a gatekeeper or decision maker could lead to being remembered when the next position opens up. (Asher)

Decker and Lacy continues along the mindset of Asher in promoting a new approach to those who are seeking employment, by discussing the need to brand or even re-brand yourself in today’s market. Just as businesses had used branding and social media to conquer the challenges associated in our down economy, these principles apply to individuals as well.

“A personal branding campaign is simple: You make the consumers-customers, readers, organizers, and hiring manager - aware of your personal brand and gain their trust to transact with you. You use a positive message (your personal brand story) to make the consumers (your network) want to go to you when they are ready to make a transaction.” (Decker, Lacy pg 215)

In both books, these techniques are usually foreign to most individuals. With the change in the job market they are now critical to the success in finding employment. Developing a personal brand provides an individual the ability to stand out from the crowd. The competitiveness of the job market requires more of a guerrilla marketing approach. No longer can one find success with the status quo. Employment competition has to be looked with the same eyes and mind as how businesses look at their competition. The question, “Why should a consumer buy our product over our competition?” is interpreted as, “Why should this employer hire me over my competition?” This mentality provides new insight into delving deeper into personal traits, skills, and image that many times have been overlooked. The development of sales skills can no longer be thought of as a skill just for the sales industry. Today’s job market requires everyone to become experts in selling themselves and their skills and having knowledge of their competition’s strength and skills. Again, with a business mindset one needs to approach the job hunting with a new set of eyes. Prospecting, lead generation, lead follow-up, open ended information questions, presentation, objection handling, knowledge of competition, and closing techniques are the new skills that individuals must develop to gain greater success in their employment endeavors. Most of these skills, are not normally pursued and obtained by a strong majority of the unemployed.

How Unemployment and Housing Interact

It was in the tie between the housing market and unemployment that we made our final argument towards the psychological effects of long-term unemployment. Its reach was taking place among the general population far more than one would anticipate. This information comes from my first-hand experience of working in the housing market field. As a Senior Executive Managing Broker, the responsibility was to manage, coach, and train real estate agents as well as working closely with title, mortgage, advertising, and marketing companies.

With the decline of the housing market, we initially witnessed the decline in the agent’s productivity. Their ability to obtain new listings and sell them became increasingly challenging. As the agent’s productivity continued to decline there was a domino effect that took place with the companies who relied on the agent’s productivity for their business. Housing inspectors, photographers, appraisers, and house warranty companies added to the list of companies and individuals effected. Also, with the decline of the agent’s income level, a drastic decline in their spending habits was noticed. Purchases, that were a normal part of the agent’s lives were put on hold. As part of our business strategy coaching exercises, we discussed in detail their business expenses and personal expenses and analyzed which contributed to their gaining business and which were luxuries that could not be associated with increasing the agent’s ability to gain listings. Those that could not be tied specifically to increasing the agent’s productivity usually were put off until more financially productive times returned.

Realtors were never included in the statistics of long-term unemployed, because they were categorized as small businesses. However, when the housing market collapsed, the collapse of this collective group of individuals behaved as a collapse of a large business and the Mass Layoff Worker category. The real estate industry collective businesses were the financial support of second level businesses with employees. When the real estate industry came to an almost screeching halt due to the decrease in home sales, supported businesses began to falter and layoffs took place.

This spiral only discusses the agent’s financial cutbacks to their business expenses. When you began to consider their personal expenses cutbacks you add to this spiral. Their decline in spending on clothing, eating out, vacations, movie attendance, removing their children from dance, sports, and music lessons add to this list. Additionally, we could include the expenses that would be considered luxuries, such as vehicles, snowmobiles, boats, jet skis, four-wheel ATV's, cruises, exotic vacation that were once a part of the agent’s normal lifestyle were drastically cut out.

While we were discussing one section of employment in our population, this type of diminishing of spending that reaches out into the community could be used to describe a number of employed or self-employed individuals. As the effects of this industry in the community was increasingly felt by others, we noticed a change in the mindset of many in the general public.

Many of those which once had limited sympathy to struggles faced by the real estate industry, soon became effected themselves, when their industry declined due to their businesses that were directly and indirectly attached to the real estate community began to lay off workers. The downward spiral continued to expand.

Different viewpoints to viewing the housing market were expressed by Allen Head and Huw Lloyd-Ellis in their article, “Housing, Liquidity, Mobility, and the Labour Market.” They argued that the decline in the housing market had been beneficial to our economy. Head and Lloyd Ellis argued that when individuals lost their ability for home ownership, they became more active in searching for employment in other areas of the country and were more apt to include relocation. This they stated was beneficial by providing companies with a new group of individuals that would normally not apply for positions within the company due to their desire to not relocate. (Head, Lloyd-Ellis)

Head and Lloyd-Ellis claimed that declining home ownership declines unemployment rates. They admitted that the declined ratio was small with a 10% decline in home ownership causing only a 1/3 of a percentage point reduction of unemployment. They showed through their research that those individuals who were unemployed and still owned their home were more likely to turn down an offer that requires relocation over their concerns to liquidate the home.

While unemployed individuals who have not maintained home, ownership are much more likely to relocate to a low wage city with lower rents when they have exhausted their employment efforts. (Head, Lloyd-Ellis)

Likewise, Donald Asher in his book “Cracking the Hidden Job Market,” applied a similar principle when stating that in order to maintain your financial status in this changing economy one needed to recognize that relocation was not an anomaly but a necessity.

“You may have to move to keep your career on track. Get over it. No place is so special it’s worth being homeless! .Look around you. Do you see the future or the past? And don’t whine to me about your house. If you’re upside down on it, give it back to the bank. You’ll be a lot better off working in a career enhancing role in a new locale. If you can’t sell it, fill it up with relatives or rent it out. Don’t hang on to a declining are until you’re flat, busted broke.” (Asher, 5)

Asher puts into perspective how holding onto a house in hopes of regaining employment in the area you reside, may be your financial decline. His perspective also contributes to the increasing affects that resulted with many American’s takings up similar advise. How many times had we seen in the media complete neighborhoods under foreclosure, and the residence moving on? How did this psychologically effect the homeowner who was in a secure job who watched their property value plummet? It is the philosophy of Asher that contributes to the argument that psychological ramification associated with long-term unemployment are felt by the unemployed and the employed.

Conclusion

Dispelling the biases that form around the long-term unemployed happens when we gain a greater understanding to the cause, history, and classification strategies used to define this new class of Americans. Having almost 12 million unemployed individuals in our nation has challenged the recovery from the great recession. While many Americans have maintained their employment during these financially difficult times, they have not been isolated and protected from feeling the effects associated with the LTU. Awareness to the plight faced by the LTU allows for open dialogue to occur. It is when individuals and businesses begin developing solutions to assisting the LTU back into our nation’s workforce, therefore aiding in our nation’s economic recovery that recovery will occur.


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