Why the Unemployed Need to Find Peace of Mind

There's a large body of research that shows job losses lead to decreased longevity.


It's a fairly cruel fact of life that the people most in need of a career coach, a massage, a vacation, or, say, a nutritious variety of fruits and vegetables, are the least likely to be able to afford them. Stress often accompanies a drop in income, so right when you need better methods of dealing with stress, you're unable to afford them.

There's a well-supported correlation between job loss and decreased longevity. Not only does a laid-off worker suffer the acute stress and earnings disruption at the time of the job loss, but over the course of a lifetime, the worker's earnings may be negatively affected by the setback. A recent study by Daniel Sullivan of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and Till von Wachter of Columbia University found job loss among high-seniority male workers resulted in a mortality rate between 50 percent and 100 percent higher than normal in the year following the job loss. The effect declines over time, according to the economists' research, but life expectancy still seemed slightly affected by the job displacement.

One remarkable point from the Sullivan-von Wachter study: The economists found that younger workers—under 55—are much more affected by the side effects of job loss than older workers. They experience a much higher percentage increase in "mortality hazards." For one thing, the researchers point out that older workers have the advantage of access to Social Security, their company's pension plans, or Medicare coverage.

Poorer health is not only a threat to those losing their jobs, but those who fear they will. As Tom Jacobs writes in the most recent issue of Miller-McCune, research increasingly suggests that "a nagging, persistent fear of losing one's job is also detrimental to one's health." (Some of the research involves self-reported health, which may or may not be the same thing as actual health.) A study earlier this year found that layoff survivors tend to experience poorer health for as long as six years.

There are a couple of things that really stick out here:

Some research indicates that the longer the job loss, the more negative the effect on health—and, in this recession, longterm unemployment is also running high. Nearly 4 million workers had been unemployed for 27 weeks or more in May, according to the Labor Department. That's triple the number at the start of the recession.

Also, worry about job loss among the employed has run incredibly high during this recession. 

As we move forward, it's important to ask how these effects could be mitigated. For those who lose jobs, high levels of uncertainty are paired with lower levels of earnings. Unemployment benefits are, no doubt, a help with income (although, some might argue, not a help if they prolong unemployment). But the best solution would really be for individuals to identify themselves as at-risk and find ways to reduce their stress. Although unemployment would seem to yield more time for exercise and stress reduction, those benefits are more theoretical than actual.


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