Special to the NNPA from thedefendersonline.com –
The U.S. is facing “a silent mental health epidemic” as joblessness lengthens and deepens for millions of once-gainfully employed Americans, a new study is warning.
The report contends that signs of significant mental health problems are already readily apparent among the jobless who’ve been out of work six months or longer, and that they are also beginning to show themselves among workers who have found jobs after a long period of unemployment but at substantially lower wages and benefits.
These problems include difficulty sleeping; having more arguments than usual with family and friends, a tendency to isolate one’s self socially out of shame at being unemployed; a listlessness and loss of self-confidence in pursuing job opportunities in the face of countless rejections, and even clinical depression.
Sociologists and labor market analysts have long discussed these and other effects on individuals of a prolonged spell of joblessness. More recently, the impact of the Great recession and continuing slow recovery has provoked news media to devote more attention to examining the impact on individuals and families of prolonged joblessness.
The huge buildup to record levels of the jobless, and especially the long-term unemployed – those out of work six months and longer – has led some to warn the nation faces a looming social and economic catastrophe.
Among those at the forefront of that effort is the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. Its researchers have produced a series of reports over the past two years probing the psychological well-being as well as the economic condition of a cohort of jobless workers, paying special attention to the long-term jobless. The findings of the latest, “Out of Work and Losing Hope: The Misery and Bleak Expectations of American Workers,” offer a grim portrait of individuals, most still in their prime working years, whose joblessness has marooned them on the margins of the society and are increasingly pessimistic about finding their way back to the center.
Nearly three-quarters of the 14 million Americans out of work have been jobless for more than six months. Half have been jobless for two years or more.
The loss of workers is a blow to the productivity of the workplace and, via workers spending their wages, the health of the economy.
The collateral damage stems from the drag on the economy caused by a sizeable cohort of unemployed and from the funding for the social services they will require.
The “Out of Work” report found that 47 percent of those surveyed said they had experienced stress because of their joblessness and 32 percent had undergone substantial emotional turmoil; at least 11 percent said they had sought professional help for depression within the last year.
The reasons why are apparent from another set of statistics embedded in the Heldrich Center survey. They show that 41 percent of those who lost a job before being first surveyed two years ago are either still unemployed or have settled involuntarily for part-time work. Among those who’ve found work, over half settled for lower pay; and nearly a third had their job-related benefits cut. The group as a whole remains in dire economic straits. Less than a fifth say their financial circumstances are “excellent; 45 percent say, after their prolonged period of joblessness that they are “poor.”
Further, as a group they are deeply pessimistic about America’s future. Nearly three-quarters believe the U.S. economy is experiencing fundamental and lasting changes, compared to just over half who said that two years ago.
Not surprisingly, the Heldrich Center found a high level of support among its survey subjects for government action to reduce unemployment, including funding long-term education and training program that help people change careers, giving tax credits to businesses that hire new workers, direct government creation of jobs for unemployed workers, and requiring recipients of unemployment benefits to enter job-training programs.