Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Problem Of The Unemployed, And Why We Need To Get the Long-Term Unemployed Back To Work

Over on Ta-Nehisi's Open Thread (For The Horde) for the day, commenter JHarper2 wrote an entry about the suffering he's enduring with kidney disease and the long wait he has for surgery and treatment.

Most of his entry borrows the writing of a young Irish woman (Regina H) also suffering while waiting for a replacement kidney, and while the original gist of the article is about enduring an illness, the woman writer compares the wait to being unemployed: (highlights mine)

...This week, I spoke with an academic who has studied the effects of unemployment, psychologically as well as socially.

He talked me through Year One. How the initial stress and nail-biting over bills and mortgages fades into feelings of depression, of failure. The gradual and growing feeling of becoming invisible.

The back-end of Year One is a watershed, for if Year One becomes Year Two, then the unemployed person is statistically unlikely to ever work again. They are then classed as long-term unemployed. Bye-bye fulfillment, farewell dignity, rest in peace all the hopes and dreams of that fragile human being.

It is not that they are suddenly useless. No, it is because over the months of nothingness, they become the disappointed parent to their own situation; they fill their heads and their sleepless nights with criticisms of how they have let themselves and their families down.

Their confidence is an early casualty, they become depressed, they start staying up late and losing the best part of the day to a lethargy that doesn't lift until noon. They falter their way through a calendar's worth of groundhog days, until they sink into dependency, and then, they stay there.

This conversation was of an enormous amount of interest to me, mostly because the feelings described were familiar.

I asked him to differentiate between levels of damage: the impact of being out of work as a result of this blasted recession VS the impact of not working because you are sick.

He told me all his hefty books would say there should be a world of difference. Being able-bodied and idle should have worse consequences than being unwell and unproductive...

The comparison of unemployment to illness is apt: not the physical aspects of illness but the psychological effects.  The ennui.  The repetition of useless duties about the house.  Withdrawal from friends and the world (mostly because you can't afford to).  Isolation and regret and doubt and no one else relying on you for good things to happen.  Sleepless nights.

And I see all those signs in myself: Unemployed now for two years and counting, unable to wake up early, unmotivated half the time, stuck in minor routines, questioning every action I commit to, staying up past 2 in the morning some nights for no reason but just sitting there both bored and unable to carry myself to bed...

I job interviewed this Monday.  The potential employer's stress question was "Why do you think you'll do a great job here?"  I answered "Because I've worked public service when I worked with libraries, and... there's that satisfaction of helping someone get that one thing, that one book off the shelf they were looking for. It's like... you know, when you help get a turtle off the road and walk him back to the swamp so he doesn't get hit by a car, and you feel good for the whole day because you saved that turtle, and that really happened to me too when I worked in Broward, I saved a turtle and felt good for the whole day, that's what I get out of doing a great job."

I wanna get back to work.  I wanna get back to thinking I can help people, that I can do something, that what I do has value.  I wanna get back to saving at least one turtle a day.

Dear Federal Government: WE NEED JOBS.  Dear Corrupt Bastard Overlords of Finance: WE NEED JOBS.


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