Out of work: A portrait

"Being unemployed is frustrating, demeaning and, at this point, frightening." Anyone who has any doubt about the devastating effects unemployment can have will learn a lot from statements such as this one, captured in a recent survey undertaken by the John. J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University in the US.

The Center polled 1,200 Americans over the age of 18 who were unemployed and looking for work at any time during the 12 months to August 2009. The result? "The Anguish of Unemployment", in at times revealing words and numbers.

53% of respondents feel that the US economy is in the midst of "fundamental and lasting changes". As one respondent puts it, "Articles in the papers say we ‘baby boomers' will have to work for a few more years, especially since so many of us have lost half, if not more, in retirement ‘funds'. Now, you tell me, how can I work for a few more years if I can't even get a job interview?!"

Of the 56% of respondents who said that they had not received any government unemployment benefits over the past 12months, 48% said they were ineligible to receive unemployment benefits. 60% of those without jobs said they were given no advance warning about their layoff; 27% were told one month or less before they were laid off.

Little wonder that some 51% of respondents said that when people are laid off from work, the government should be responsible for helping them. In comparison, 17% said the employer should be responsible and 33% said the workers, themselves, should be responsible.

Importantly, 76% of respondents said that the economic situation has had "a major impact" on their families. "I do receive food stamps, but that doesn't help me get back and forth to the grocery store, or buy laundry detergent to wash clothes, or even to buy new clothes for a possible job interview," said one respondent.

Of the 43% of respondents who said they had received unemployment benefits, 83% said that they were "somewhat" or "very" concerned that those benefits would run out before they found another job.

"The lack of income and loss of health benefits hurts greatly, but losing the ability to provide for my wife and myself is killing me emotionally."

Of those surveyed, 70% said that they had postponed home improvements or a vacation, 63% said they had used money from savings set aside for other things or for retirement to make ends meet, and 56% said they had borrowed money from family or friends.

More than 60% of respondents reported a change in sleeping patterns, loss of sleep, or feeling restless and uneasy. Some 58% said family relations were strained, and 52% said that they avoid social situations with friends and acquaintances. 

The Rutgers poll paints a depressing picture, but not one without hope. While 77% of those surveyed said that they have felt "stressed" and 68% said that they have felt "depressed" because of their situation, 66% reported that they felt "eager for a new start". MA

The full survey can be found at www.heldrich.rutgers.edu

©OECD Observer No 274, October 2009




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