A group of experts found that long-term unemployment harms the mental health of people they termed “resilient,” meaning people over 50 with no history of mental illness. The American Psychological Association briefed Congress on the findings on Oct. 19.
The unemployed resilient group were three times as likely to experience clinical levels of anxiety and depression compared to other resilient people who had jobs, according to Arthur Goldsmith, the Jackson T. Stephens professor of economics at Washington and Lee (W&L), and Timothy Diette, assistant professor of economics at W&L and the lead investigator on the study.
"Unemployment is tearing at the very fabric of our society, and I would suggest that we look at this with a greater sense of urgency," Goldsmith said in a statement about the Oct. 19 briefing.
Diette said the group’s methodology allowed them to pinpoint unemployment as the cause of mental distress. “We have a real crisis on our hands,” said Diette, in a phone interview.
He said the ripple effect of unemployment is important, as the person out of work is not the only one affected. People’s earning capacity and careers can take a lasting hit after long-term unemployment, and skills can deteriorate.
"We see divorce rates are higher during recessions; marriage rates fall during recessions; children growing up in families with unemployed parents perform more poorly in school and tend to have more behavioral problems," Goldsmith said in his statement.
The scholars looked at strong, mentally healthy people, but “One other thing worth noting is that the vulnerable [are] a significant share of population,” said Diette. He said many people already have problems with anxiety and depression, and could be expected to have even more trouble coping with unemployment than those in the resilient group.
People who experience long-term joblessness may experience lasting economic and emotional scars.
“I really wish we had a silver bullet for the jobs crisis. My colleague would say we do,” said Diette.
William A. Darity, arts & sciences professor at Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, “proposes the formation of a National Investment Employment Corps to provide a job guarantee for all citizens, and to perform the work necessary to maintain and expand the nation’s physical and human infrastructure.”
Darity worked on the study and wrote, “A Direct Route to Full Employment.” The professor wants the federal government to fund and guarantee full employment with benefits, paying for jobs from high quality, skilled child care to infrastructure repair to loan administration to teaching to health care. State and local governments would administer the jobs.
The idea is that any American who wants to work would be guaranteed a job, not unemployment or food stamps. Convicts would be guaranteed work, and therefore would be more likely to stay out of prison. Darity believes it is a better use of federal money than bailouts, and would end the economic crisis.“It is stunning how cautious the response has been to the nation’s greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s,” wrote Darity.