By Sheldon Greaves
This post previously appeared in Unexpected Leisure, 13 February 2011. I’m reposting it here as a preface to some additional material I want to post on this and related subjects, especially in light of the moral obscenity of the Trump budget proposal, along some other troubling trends. -sg
More and more studies are appearing about what happens to people facing unemployment for a long time. The universal consensus is that very real psychological damage results when someone is unable to find work after several months. What is particularly sobering about this research is that the damage can be lifelong and often includes significantly reduced income for years or even decades afterward.
Six months seems to mark the point at which the damage starts to show. In an earlier post I cited some figures about how many premature deaths can be linked to long-term joblessness, and it’s in the tens of thousands for every additional percentage point of unemployment above the long-term average. At about six months your confidence starts to slip and you wonder what it is that you are doing wrong. You resist the notion that maybe the job market is just not there, that you’re effectively panning for gold in a snow bank. To accept that idea is to relinquish even the illusion of control over your situation. Even if you realize that your hands are weak, the thought that your destiny is in your hands implies–albeit feebly–that maybe you can find a way out of this.
Depression comes and goes as you approach the one-year mark. Anger starts out behind but catches up fast, now and then surging into searing rage. By now you are routinely second-guessing yourself, trying to twiddle the minutia in your resume as if there was some magic incantation, that will open doors and get you that job. The effects of doing something over and over (applying for jobs) and expecting a result different from constant silence or rejection are literally crazy-making. It’s also about this time that you starts to see email from sites that will find you that job if you fork over a subscription fee, as well as other contacts from scammers who prey on the desperation of job-seekers who have been at it for a long time.
Physical vigor can slacken. The state of long-term unemployment can drain you of ambition for things like exercise, although in my case my Friday evening Jiu-Jutsu class gave me a great opportunity to work off stress by throwing people around and having them return the favor. There is also a sense of mutual respect among my fellow martial artists in the class that provides a psychological boost, knowing that all are concerned about each others’ welfare.
Rather than go into additional detail, which you can find in any number of articles on the subject, I’d like to point out something that I haven’t seen too much of yet, but am hopeful to see soon (or have someone else point out to me) and that is some kind of advice on what we who have been out of work for a long time can do to combat the effects of this mentally caustic situation. I have my own things, which I’ll write about in more detail soon.
For my part, it’s been two years now since I was given my layoff notice. I’ve tried to fight its effects by learning new things; I’ve taken some math classes, I got my ham radio license, studied Modern Greek, and done some reading in other esoteric subjects. But I happen to be insatiably curious, which is not true of everyone. I heartily endorse the words of Merlyn the Magician in T. H. White’s The Once and Future King: “The best thing for being sad… is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails.”
The problem is that this works only up to a point. There comes a time when the serendipity that is the birthright of a joyfully prodigal curiosity must give way to a mandate that all new learning must have a job or income as the end. That for me is the worst, when everything becomes equidistant from the once and future job.
Our lawmakers need to understand that denying funds and legislation for real job creation (not more useless tax cuts) and lending a hand to the long-term unemployed is literally a matter of life and death.