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The Anguish of Unemployment

by Arthur Delaney

A new survey of unemployed Americans quantifies the enormous psychological trauma inflicted on laid-off workers by the recession -- but the pain comes through most clearly in the comments of the unemployed themselves.

A job seeker looks over the employment bulletin board the New York State Labor Department's Division of Employment Services resource in New York City. The US unemployment rate jumped to 9.7 percent in August as 216,000 jobs were lost, the government said in a report showing improving labor market conditions. (AFP/Getty Images/File/Chris Hondros) "The lack of income and loss of health benefits hurts greatly, but losing the ability to provide for my wife and myself is killing me emotionally," wrote one respondent to the survey, which was conducted by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.

"Everything I have built up over the past 15 years of my life is being chipped away," wrote another.

"It really gives you a feel for the depth of the emotion and the suffering people are going through," said survey co-author Cliff Zukin, explaining why he included the raw comments in the report.

The numbers are pretty grim, too: Only 20 percent of those surveyed think they will land a job in the next few months, even fewer expect to get their old job back (11 percent), and most people say they feel stressed (77 percent), depressed (68 percent), helpless (61 percent), and angry (55 percent).

The survey finds that 55 percent of the unemployed say it's their first bout of joblessness in five years, 60 percent were given no notice whatsoever by their employer, and only 11 percent think they'll get their old job back.

Zukin said that beyond the collective psychological trauma, the numbers bode badly for the economic impact of the nation's employment situation. Sixty-three percent of respondents have dipped into their savings or retirement funds, 56 percent have had to borrow from friends or family, and 34 percent have increased their credit card debt.

More numbers:

-- 75 percent of respondents are considering changing their career.

-- 43 percent said they'd received unemployment benefits from the government in the last year.

-- 53 percent said they had no health care benefits.

Some more comments:

"Even though age discrimination is illegal, I do believe it puts people off hiring; that is why I took a temporary job on my last job....I've always worked, so this is very depressing. At age 60, I never believed I would be unemployed unless I chose to be."

"My age (59) leaves me feeling worthless, very old, and isolated from the workforce -- with little chance of finding employment."

"Very few employers are willing to hire someone at my age because they are afraid of possible health concerns down the road, and that I may decide to retire too soon to make me a good risk."

"I don't want to move back home with my parents. Right before I became unemployed, I had moved out on my own for the first time."

"Nobody has called me in seven months. I don't feel important. I'm not contributing to family finances."

Click here to read a PDF of "The Anguish of Unemployment."

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