But a job is much more than an economic phenomena, nice to have, sometimes lost. Work is about dignity, a sense of worthiness. For most of history, unemployment – not having a task to do if one wanted to – has been a temporary rarity. It was only industralisation that allowed the creation of a surplus pool of labour, the involuntarily unemployed. Wanting to work but not being able to get it is an unpleasant experience, as many of you will know. One can feel hopeless, useless, and frustrated – it’s not something that people cope with well. It tends to lead to more negative social behaviour – more substance abuse, more crime, more mental illness, more violence against others and against oneself.’
I wrote about this a while back in the context of the crime figures, which show a near perfect link between the unemployment rate and crime rate – crime goes up 5% for every 1% increase in unemployment (or, coincidentally, 20,000 for crimes for 20,000 more unemployed).
There’s a strong correlation – 0.45 for the general population, 0.6 for young men – that’s a very strong indication that one causes the other). The trend is that for every one percent increase in unemployment the suicide rate goes up 0.24 per 100,000, which is 20 people per year. The increase is four times as strong for young men. Not being able to get work can be the final straw for some people, and young men are especially vulnerable.
This is why I get so pissed off when people talk about unemployment as if it’s some unfortunate mishap, nothing serious, one of those things that happens in capitalism. Unemployment is a root cause of social malaise and individual tragedy.
That’s why it’s so important that government’s commit to full employment programmes and actually do their utmost to realise them. It’s not just so they can afford a nice standard of living, it’s so people can have dignity, feel they’re worthwhile, that they are a part of society, that they’re contributing, that life is worth living.
(*the nature of modern economies with 10% of jobs disappearing and being replaced every year, people moving city, entering and leaving the workforce, there must always be a ‘churn’ level of unemployment – 2-3%)