Joblessness (loss of the valued social role of worker)

Atlantic magazine in March 2010 ran an article entitled ‘How a new jobless era will transform America.’ It struck me when reading it how much the article was about the loss of (or about the ‘never having had’ in the first place) the valued role of worker.

SRV encourages us to think about working on the level of the: individual, primary and secondary social systems (i.e., family, school, workplace, etc.), and the level of society as a whole (SRV monograph by Wolfensberger, pp. 78-80). This article addresses the likely impacts of the loss, or the ‘never had,’ of the worker role on individuals, communities, and society.

The Atlantic article touches on the following SRV relevant points:

• Wounding as a result of social and societal devaluation. From the article:

Being involuntarily out of work for six months or more … is the worst thing that can happen … equivalent to the death of a spouse, and a ‘kind of bereavement’ in its own right.

Unemployment leaves psychological scars that remain even after work is found again, and, because the happiness of husbands and the happiness of wives are usually closely related, the misery spreads throughout the home.

All available evidence suggests that long bouts of unemployment-particularly male unemployment-still enfeeble the jobless and warp their families to a similar degree, and in many of the same ways.

• Heightened vulnerability. From the article:

Graduates’ first jobs have an inordinate impact on their career path and [lifetime earnings] … People essentially cannot close the wage gap by working their way up the company hierarchy … They don’t catch up … Seventeen years after graduation, those who had entered the workforce during inhospitable times were still earning 10 percent less on average than those who had emerged into a more bountiful climate.

But regardless of age, all men (who had been laid off) were left with an elevated risk of dying in each year following their episode of unemployment, for the rest of their lives.

• How physical settings and personal appearance communicate role expectancies, personal unconsciousness. From the article:

Some neighbors were at the Walmart (where he worked) a couple of weeks ago, he said, and he rang up their purchase. ‘Maybe they were used to seeing me in a different setting,’ he said–in a suit as he left for work in the morning, or walking the dog in the neighborhood. Or ‘maybe they were daydreaming.’ But they didn’t greet him, and he didn’t say anything. He looked down at his soup, pushing it around the bowl with his spoon for a few seconds before looking up at me. ‘I know they knew me,’ he said. ‘I’ve been in their home.’

• Impact of the lack or loss of valued social roles on the level of an entire community. From the article:

Communities with large numbers of unmarried, jobless men take on an unsavory character over time.

• The impact of devaluation on the level of an entire society. From the article:

If it persists much longer, this era of high joblessness will likely change the life course and character of a generation of young adults–and quite possibly those of the children behind them as well.

Posted on March 19, 2010 at 10:47 am by MTumeinski · Permalink
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