April V. Taylor
For the first time ever, millions of Americans are faced with living in limbo between unemployment and underemployment as the economic recovery continues to see middle class jobs replaced with low wage jobs. In an effort to retain some kind of financial solvency, many have taken on working multiple low wage jobs that are much different than the jobs they may have had prior to the 2008 recession.
There have been a myriad of research studies on the stress and trauma caused by unemployment, showing that it can be just as bad as a divorce or the death of a spouse. Some researchers have taken a closer look and have found that as bad as unemployment can be, workers who are emotionally disconnected from their work and workplace rate their lives more poorly than those who are unemployed.
A longitudinal Australian national survey found that people who have demanding jobs that lack job security and fair compensation score lower on mental health scales than people who remain unemployed. Factors such as sex, age and financial hardship were all adjusted for. Job security and pay are two things that took major hits during the recession and have yet to come anywhere close to pre-recession levels. The study found that even small differences in those two areas can have major impacts.
Peter Butterworth of the Australian National University who wrote the study states, “The erosion of work conditions may incur a health cost, which over the longer term will be both economically and socially counterproductive.” Researchers suggest that employment policies that are based on the notion that any job is better than none in terms of economic and personal well being may be wrong.
Study participants who transitioned from being unemployed to working a poor-quality job actually showed a worsening of their mental health, and drops in mental health persisted over time. Researchers suggest that putting protections in place to promote job security would help increase job-quality. Reducing the number of “forced choices” an employee is presented with was also suggested by researchers.
Poor-quality and temporary jobs, as researcher Stephen Bevan states, threaten “our productivity and competitiveness, levels of social inclusion and, ultimately, the health of the workforce.” The fact that “there is a perversely strong chance that” employees will be worse off in terms of their mental health is not helping people recover, and policies must reflect this.