Growing Up with Unemployment: A Longitudinal Study of Its Psychological Impact

By Anthony H. Winefield; Marika Tiggemann et al. | Go to book overview

2

Background

Unemployment since the early 1980s has come to be seen as a serious social problem in many industrialised societies. Whether it should be regarded as more or less serious than the widespread unemployment of the 1930s, however, is open to debate. On the one hand the level of unemployment has not yet reached the levels that were prevalent during the Great Depression. Moreover, the physical hardship endured by the unemployed today is no doubt less severe because of improved welfare benefits. On the other hand, some writers have argued that even so, the psychological distress experienced by the currently unemployed may be even greater than was the case during the earlier decade.


SOCIAL ATTITUDES TO THE UNEMPLOYED

The psychological distress suffered by the unemployed today appears to be compounded by their own pessimism and by the hostile attitude of society to them. It is by no means unrealistic for an unemployed person to be pessimistic about the future. Because of structural changes in the economy, particularly the shift from labour-intensive to capital-intensive industry, the future availability of jobs may well continue to decline throughout the 1990s. Moreover it is well known that an unemployed person's chances of getting a job decrease as the length of unemployment increases (Adams and Mangum, 1978; Casson, 1979).

On the other hand, the hostile attitude of society towards the unemployed does not appear to be justified. It usually takes the form that unemployed people could get work if they really wanted it. In other words, they choose to be unemployed. As Kelvin and Jarrett (1985) put it:

In effect, the unemployed individual always seems to be somehow suspect: at best he is seen as probably in part to blame for his unemployment; and even if he is 'genuine' it is thought that he should be

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