Home > Gadgets > unemployment and disengagement » Contexts Crawler

unemployment and disengagement » Contexts Crawler

A USA Today Op-Ed by Thomas Sander and Robert Putnam reveals a long-term consequence of unemployment:

Recent studies confirm the results of research during the Great Depression — unemployment badly frays a person’s ties with his community, sometimes permanently. After careful analysis of 20 years of monthly surveys tracking Americans’ social and political habits, our colleague Chaeyoon Lim of the University of Wisconsin has found that unemployed Americans are significantly less involved in their communities than their employed demographic twins. The jobless are less likely to vote, petition, march, write letters to editors, or even volunteer. They attend fewer meetings and serve less frequently as leaders in local organizations. Moreover, sociologist Cristobal Young’s research finds that the unemployed spend most of their increased free time alone.

These negative social consequences outlast the unemployment itself. Tracking Wisconsin 1957 high school graduates, sociologists Jennie Brand and Sarah Burgard found that in contrast to comparable classmates who were never unemployed, graduates who lost jobs, even briefly and early in their careers, joined community groups less and volunteered considerably less over their entire lives. And economist Andrew Clark, psychologist Richard Lucas and others found that, unlike almost any other traumatic life event, joblessness results in permanently lower levels of life satisfaction, even if the jobless later find jobs.

Equally disturbing, high unemployment rates reduce the social and civic involvement even of those still employed. Lim has found that Americans with jobs who live in states with high unemployment are less civically engaged than workers elsewhere. In fact, most of the civic decay in hard-hit communities is likely due not to the jobless dropping out, but to their still-employed neighbors dropping out.

Some possible explanations for this disturbing trend:

What might explain the civic withdrawal during recessions? The jobless shun socializing, shamed that their work was deemed expendable. Economic depression breeds psychological depression. The unemployed may feel that their employer has broken an implicit social contract, deflating any impulse to help others. Where unemployment is high, those still hanging onto their jobs might work harder for fear of further layoffs, thus crowding out time for civic engagement. Above all, in afflicted communities, the contagion of psychic depression and social isolation spreads more rapidly than joblessness itself.

I wonder what lessons we can draw from WMD’s long term economic slump?

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