Gallup: Being Unemployed Is Depressing

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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A survey by Gallup confirms what we already knew: Being unemployed for a long time is depressing.

Okay, technically speaking, while they can’t confirm the causal relationship (could it be that depressed people are more likely to lose their jobs in the first place?), I’ll go out on a limb and speculate that, yes, NOT HAVING A JOB IS DEPRESSING!

What is more, it’s a vicious cycle: “The loss of hope that can accompany long-term unemployment may be detrimental not only to job seekers’ quality of life, but also to their ability to find good jobs,” Gallup’s Steve Crabtree notes.

Anyone who has ever observed that it’s harder to enter into a romantic relationship after you’ve been dumped will immediately understand this Catch-22: Nobody will hire you if you’re depressed, and/or (obviously) if you’ve given up. And this fact leads you to spiral even deeper into depression.

Anecdotally speaking, this confirms a lot of things I have always known. First, we are created to have a purpose, and meaningful work is certainly a part of that larger purpose (not all work is fulfilling, of course, but human spirit flourishes when people feel they are contributing to society and taking care of their families.) And second, momentum matters: A body in motion tends to stay in motion, while a body at rest … you know the line.

This is all good advice for individuals to consider. But from a public policy standpoint, I also think these findings should inform how we handle issues concerning unemployment.

For example, instead of just paying people not to work via unemployment benefits (and watching them slowly descend into depression), maybe we should also think about relocation vouchers — or simply providing lump-sum bonuses to incentivize the long-term unemployed to accept positions they might otherwise turn down (because the pay isn’t commensurate with experience). And isn’t this another argument against pricing people out of the job market by raising the minimum wage?

The psychological toll of unemployment is an additional negative externality that we ought to consider when crafting pubic policy, and I would suggest that this is something conservatives have inherently understood better than liberals.