November 06, 2009

Dying for a job

Seventeenth century painting by Philippe de Champaigne.

An article in Wednesday's Washington Post highlighted the Obama administration's efforts to grapple with rising unemployment in the midst of signs of an expanding economy. Both the administration and congress are going to have try to balance the need for action with concern over federal deficits.

Based on some pretty hard social science, there's one thing we know about recession-related unemployment: some people are going to die earlier than they would have because of it.

As British epidemiologist Michael Marmot summed up research on unemployment in Britain in his book The Status Syndrome: How Social Standing Affects our Health and Longevity, "people who became unemployed had 20 percent higher mortality than those who remained employed at the same social class level."

Obviously, lots of factors could be at work here, including greater stress and anxiety, which are known to have health consequences. Poverty could play a part, but Marmot argues that

it is useful to distinguish the two senses of poverty: a lack of basic material conditions for life; and insufficient resources, private or public, to participate in society. The first is unlikely to be the sole explanation, as unemployed professionals, who might be expected to have some saving,s have worse health than those still employed in the same occupational social class. This is not to say that financial problems are irrelevant. Far from it. Financial strain appears to be the complaint most associated with worse mental health in the unemployed. I would ague that this is consistent with poverty in the second sense--inability to participate fully in society. Whether initially well-off, or poorly off, deterioration in economic circumstances will cause real hardship.

Add to the mix another known factor related to health: being involuntarily unemployed also reduces one's sense of autonomy and control over one's life. Taken together, loss of control and inability to fully participate in society are a poisonous mix.

Economist John Maynard Keynes famously commented that "in the long run we are all dead." For some of the unemployed, the long run is getting shorter.

ON THAT SUBJECT, Congress approved an extension of unemployment benefits yesterday. And while we're at it, here's a call for public jobs creation along the lines of the New Deal.

RAMPAGE. It was a terrible day at Ft. Hood.

IS CLIMATE CHANGE happening in the Senate? Maybe, but we're not there yet. Here's Coal Tattoo on the subject.

EXERCISE AND WEIGHT LOSS. There is a connection, but it's not all that simple.



Anonymous said...

But - people may be less stressed and lead healthier lives during downturns.

There are some studies that show that mortality decreases during recessions (including the Great Depression)

"Population health did not decline and indeed generally improved during the 4 years of the Great Depression, 1930–1933, with mortality decreasing for almost all ages, and life expectancy increasing by several years in males, females, whites, and nonwhites. For most age groups, mortality tended to peak during years of strong economic expansion (such as 1923, 1926, 1929, and 1936–1937)."

and this one that studied the health of Depression babies in old age and found no correlation.

Maybe it is time for a 30-hour workweek, to increase employment and de-stress those who are working too hard.

El Cabrero said...

Maybe one thing that made the Great Depression a little different was that the effects were so generalized. It seems like the health effect has to do with how we are doing in relation to others.

However, I'm down with the idea of a shorter work week and more employment for all.

hollowdweller said...

Maybe it is time for a 30-hour workweek, to increase employment and de-stress those who are working too hard.

I'm voting for this dude.