Job loss not so bad?

Most people would assume that losing your job would have grave psychological effects, such as depression, worry, feelings of helplessness, doubts about the future, and a general attitude of frustration and unhappiness about one’s condition. But a new study reported in Science Daily for 12-27-2010 (“Recovering from Job Loss: Most Report Few Long-Term Psychological Effects”) challenges this bleak view. The study, put out by the American Psychological Association, claims most people bounce back and end up just as satisfied with their lives as they were before they lost their jobs. This is good news for bosses who can send out pink slips without having to feel so bad.

Dr. Isaac Galatzer-Levy, the lead author of the study, points out, “Unemployment rates continue to be historically high in the United States and other countries. There’s a real concern that this will have long-term implications on the mental well being of a large portion of the work force. But this analysis suggests that people are able to cope with a job loss relatively well over time.” Well, let’s see what this is all about.

You might think, since the unemployment rate in the U.S. was mentioned, that the study might have included U.S. workers. It did not. The study was conducted in Germany and involved 774 German workers who had lost their jobs.

The German workers were asked how satisfied they felt about their lives and well being during the three years before and the four years after they lost their jobs. Dr. Galatzer-Levy said, “Just like in the current climate, these are people who are losing jobs not due to [any] fault of their own, but because they’re the victims of large market forces.”

But beyond pointing out that working people under capitalism have no control over their destinies and thus no real democratic control of their lives, I am not sure we can extrapolate the German findings to the US.

After going over all the responses and dividing the groups into different categories, the researchers came to the following conclusions.

First, they say previous analysis of “the same data” revealed “that people never really returned to pre-unemployment levels of life satisfaction.” This seems intuitively correct. However, the researchers used “a different analytical model” and their new model, they think, is more representative of how people respond to unemployment. Using the new model, on “the same data,” they arrived at the following conclusion: “most people cope well with this event [job loss] and report few long-term effects on their overall well-being.”

The authors think this shows the “resilience” of workers to job loss. It is similar to reactions to “other traumatic events” such as “the death of a loved one, terrorist attack” or “traumatic injury.” Well, I’m glad to see they understand what getting a pink slip means to working people.

But in Germany, 27.6 percent of Gross National Product is dedicated to social insurance, including health and unemployment insurance, as opposed to 16.2 percent in the U.S. German workers get 60 percent to 67 percent of their wages in unemployment insurance while U.S. workers get about 36 percent.

This might have something to do with feelings of “satisfaction.”

Too bad the study failed to note this distinction.

Photo: tokyofortwo CC 2.0 


Thomas Riggins
Thomas Riggins

Thomas Riggins has a background in philisophy, anthropology and archeology. He writes from New York, NY. Riggins was associate editor of Political Affairs magazine.