Recent employment reports reflect enhanced job opportunities and a brighter economic picture. Today’s newswire announced, “Job openings in June reached a 13-year high”. But the news is bittersweet for some. Although the long-term unemployed, those out of work longer than six months, desire a rebound after the knockout punch that took them down, over time they often feel frozen and trapped. Many are knee deep in debt and have suffered multiple losses. Homes have gone into foreclosure, spouses have left them and other significant relationships have been compromised. Their bank accounts are drained. One of their most profound losses is pride and dignity. Skills decline after such a lengthy absence from work that exacerbates their anxiety and fills them with doubt. Reemployment opportunities are reduced the longer they stay unemployed and if they return to work it’s often for substantially reduced wages. Many of the unemployed suffer shame and embarrassment. They experience isolation due to self-imposed severed networks. Anger and depression replace what once was enthusiasm and hope. Some experts call this state a “silent mental health epidemic”. Barriers to employment must be addressed before recovery can begin.
The American Psychological Association (APA) reports the unemployed suffer from depression, anxiety and low self-esteem at twice the rate as their employed counterparts. Suicide rates are higher; incidences of alcohol and spousal abuse are elevated.
The stress of unemployment often leads to declining health. Some might argue that workplace stress is worse but the unemployed have an increased risk of heart disease and are more likely to be obese and suffer from high blood pressure and other related health issues. Until recent health initiatives began, many were uninsured and unable to afford proper health care. Their conditions often went untreated and ignored.
Children are more likely to be victimized by increased corporal punishment and other forms of abuse when parents are under stress. Conflicts over money and lack of resources places kids in a vulnerable position where they often witness parents at battle. In many cases they are left to their own devices while mom and dad scramble to find work or are not able to care for them due to depression. Many are uprooted so parents can seek employment elsewhere or try to reduce living expenses. In a study, conducted by The Urban Institute, paternal job loss had the biggest impact on families. It affected school performance and reduced children’s chances for finishing high school. The loss of health care coverage produced negative outcomes as well. Women, African Americans and younger workers were most affected by lower wages and involuntary part-time work (underemployment) often having to work multiple jobs to get by.
What’s the answer?
There is no magic pill or special formula to cure the ills of the unemployed and the underemployed although programs such as job retraining and extended unemployment benefits offer hope and give a boost to those in need. But there are also things we can do to help ourselves. That is, be proactive about your employment picture. Never say, “My job is rock solid. I don’t need a plan B” This might be so, but why take a chance? Just as you would prepare for an untimely death with a life insurance policy, prepare for unexpected job loss too. A savings account is a good place to begin but a 2014 CNN Money study tells us that more than 25 million middle class families are living paycheck to paycheck. If you’re one of them you’re not alone.
Take these practical and essential tips seriously. The most commonly expressed sentiment spoken from the mouths of the unemployed? “I never thought this could happen to me.”
Never let go of your networks. Use social media but don’t limit yourself to just that.
Keep skills current and up to date.
Consider all opportunities for training and development.
Treat workplace relationships GOLDEN even when it’s difficult.
Fiercely guard your professional reputation.
Keep your résumé accessible, current and available.
Be visible in your professional community.
Help others when possible; reach out when you need a hand.
If you are having great difficulty coping seek professional help or a support group. Do not isolate yourself. There is no shame in depression. Job loss can be debilitating. It ranks in the same category as divorce, death of a loved one, or a serious health diagnosis. Take care of yourself.