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The True Pain of Joblessness

We all know we’re experiencing a jobless recovery. Each month we wait for the newest jobs statistics, and their release is immediately followed by numerous analyses of what the number means for the recovery. Frustration with the situation is simmering, causing both the President and his challenger to release different attack ads about their opponent’s job records.

Source: United Technologies/Congressional Connection/National Journal, April 2012.

And why shouldn’t they? This chart from the American says it all. Americans feel the government should be doing more to get people back to work, but no one sees it as likely that they will. My colleague Kevin Hassett explains the truth about the high unemployment rate this way in Sunday’s New York Times:

In 2007, before the Great Recession, people who were looking for work for more than six months — the definition of long-term unemployment — accounted for just 0.8 percent of the labor force. The recession has radically changed this picture. In 2010, the long-term unemployed accounted for 4.2 percent of the work force. That figure would be 50 percent higher if we added the people who gave up looking for work.

Long-term unemployment is experienced disproportionately by the young, the old, the less educated, and African-American and Latino workers.”

As scary as this is, what’s even more frightening is the toll this takes on each unemployed American. Kevin goes on to discuss the long-term implications:

The result is nothing short of a national emergency. Millions of workers have been disconnected from the work force, and possibly even from society. If they are not reconnected, the costs to them and to society will be grim.

Unemployment is almost always a traumatic event, especially for older workers. A paper by the economists Daniel Sullivan and Till von Wachter estimates a 50 to 100 percent increase in death rates for older male workers in the years immediately following a job loss, if they previously had been consistently employed. This higher mortality rate implies that a male worker displaced in midcareer can expect to live about one and a half years less than a worker who keeps his job.”

The causes for this are numerous — prolonged joblessness is associated with serious illness,  psychiatric problems, and suicide. And the negative consequences are passed on to the next generation through an “18 percent increase in the probability of divorce following a husband’s job loss and 13 percent after a wife’s.”

Free enterprise advocates everywhere need to ceaselessly recite this very immoral human tragedy as we advocate for policies that create jobs. And we need to always remember the true purpose behind vocation: earned success. Americans will flourish when we craft policies that get out of the way of entrepreneurs and allow the private sector to once again become America’s main engine of growth.

Arthur Brooks

AEI