Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: March 2018

Chapter 30 - Long-Term Unemployment in the United States

from Part IV - Problems of Institutions


As of 2015, the percentage of the unemployed who are long-term unemployed remains at levels unseen in the US in over six decades. A well-established literature associates long-term unemployment with a variety of social ills, including poverty, increased risk of physical and mental health problems, and deteriorating emotional well-being. This chapter describes the nature and scope of long-term unemployment in the United States and its impact on individuals and families. It also focuses on the issue of mental health and explores the causal relationship between long-term unemployment and mental health as well as the most promising solutions to the mental health challenges raised by long-term unemployment. The final section of the chapter focuses on the challenges that arise when long-term unemployed workers internalize the stigma of unemployment and blame themselves for their labor market difficulties, and it considers possible causes of and solutions to such self-blame.

AARP. 2014. Staying Ahead of the Curve 2013: The AARP Work and Career Study. Older Workers in an Uneasy Job Market. Washington, DC: AARP.
Azrin, Nathan, and Besalel, Victoria. 1980. Job Club Counselor's Manual: A Behavioral Approach to Vocational Counseling. Baltimore: University Park Press.
Bakke, Edward W. 1933. The Unemployed Man: A Social Study. London: Nibset.
Bivens, Josh. 2014. Historically small share of jobless people are receiving unemployment insurance. Economic Policy Institute.
Blustein, David L. 2006. The Psychology of Working: A New Perspective for Career Development, Counseling, and Public Policy. New York: Routledge.
Blustein, David L. 2011. A relational theory of working. Journal of Vocational Behavior 79(1):117.
Blustein, David L. ed. 2013. The Oxford Handbook of the Psychology of Working. New York: Oxford University Press.
Blustein, David L., Kozan, Saliha, and Connors-Kellgren, Alice. 2013. Unemployment and underemployment: A narrative analysis about loss. Journal of Vocational Behavior 82:256–65.
Blustein, David L., Kozan, Saliha, Connors-Kellgren, Alice, and Rand, Bailey. 2015. Social class and career intervention. In APA Handbook of Career Intervention: Vol. 1. Foundations, edited by Hartung, Paul J., Savickas, Mark L., and Walsh, W. Bruce, 243–57. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Borie-Holtz, Debbie, Van Horn, Carl, and Zukin, Cliff. 2010. No End in Sight: The Agony of Prolonged Unemployment. New Brunswick, NJ: Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, Rutgers University.
Butterworth, Peter, Leach, L., McManus, S. et al. 2013. Common mental disorders, unemployment and psychosocial job quality: Is a poor job better than no job at all? Psychological Medicine 43:1763–72.
Caplan, Robert, Vinokur, Amiram, Price, Richard, and van Ryn, Michelle. 1989. Job-seeking, reemployment, and mental health: A randomized field experiment in coping with job loss. Journal of Applied Psychology 74:759–69.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2010. Health, United States, 2010. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Disease Statistics.
Chen, Victor. 2015. Cut Loose: Jobless and Hopeless in an Unfair Economy. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Cottle, Thomas. 2001. Hardest times: The trauma of long-term unemployment. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.
Creed, Peter, and Bartrum, Dee. 2006. Explanations for deteriorating wellbeing in unemployed people: Specific unemployment theories and beyond. In Unemployment and Health: International and Interdisciplinary Perspectives, edited by Kieselbach, Thomas, Winelield, Anthony, and Boyd, Carolyn, 120. Bowen Hills: Australian Academic Press.
Dettenborn, L., Tietze, A., Bruckner, F., and Kirschbaum, C.. 2010. Higher cortisol content in hair among long-term unemployed individuals compared to controls. Psychoneuroendocrinology 35(9):1404–9.
Donkin, Richard. 2010. The History of Work. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Eales, M. 1989. Shame among unemployed men. Social Science and Medicine 28(8):783–89.
Economic Policy Institute. 2015. Missing workers.
Ehrenreich, Barbara. 2005. Bait and Switch: The (futile) Pursuit of the American Dream. New York: Metropolitan Books.
Flum, Hanoch. 2015. Relationships and career development: An integrative approach. In APA Handbook of Career Intervention: Vol. 1. Foundations, edited by Hartung, Paul J., Savickas, Mark L., and Walsh, W. Bruce, 145–58. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Freire, Paulo. 2007. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 3rd ed. New York: Continuum.
Ghayad, Rand. 2013. The jobless trap. Working paper. Boston, MA: Center for Labor Market Studies, Northeastern University.
Godofsky, Jessica, Van Horn, Carl, and Zukin, Cliff. 2010. American Workers Assess an Economic Disaster. New Brunswick, NJ: Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, Rutgers University.
Guyll, M., Matthews, K. A., and Bromberger, J. T.. 2001. Discrimination and unfair treatment: Relationship to cardiovascular reactivity among African American and European American women. Health Psychology 20(5):315–25.
Harrell, J. P., Hall, S., and Taliaferro, J.. 2003. Physiological responses to racism and discrimination: An assessment of the evidence. American Journal of Public Health 93:243–48.
Hing, Leanne Son. 2013. Prejudice, neoliberalism, and resilience. In Social Resilience in the Neoliberal Era, edited by Hall, Peter and Lamont, Michele, 158–82. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Ho, Geoffrey, Shih, Margaret, Walters, Daniel, and Pittinsky, Todd. 2011 The stigma of unemployment: When joblessness leads to being jobless.
International Labor Organization. 1999. Report of the Director-General: Decent work. International Labour Conference, 87th Session, Geneva.
Jahoda, Marie. 1982. Employment and Unemployment: A Social-Psychological Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Johnson, Richard W., and Mommaerts, Corinna. 2011. Age Differences in Job Loss, Job Search, and Reemployment. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.
Kanfer, Ruth, Wanberg, Connie, and Kantrowitz, Tracy. 2001. Job search and employment: A personality-motivational analysis and meta-analytic review. Journal of Applied Psychology 86(5):837–55.
Kaufman, Harold G. 1982. Professionals in Search of Work: Coping with the Stress of Job Loss and Underemployment. New York: John Wiley.
Keating, Daniel. 2009. Social interaction in human development: Pathway to health and capabilities. In Successful Societies: How Institutions and Culture Affect Health, edited by Hall, Peter and Lamont, Michele, 5381. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Komarovsky, Mirra. 1940. The Unemployed Man and His Family. New York: Octagon Books.
Kosanovich, Karen, and Sherman, Eleni Thedossiou. 2015. Trends in Long Term Unemployment. Spotlight on Statistics. Washington, DC: US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Kroft, Kory, Lange, Fabian, and Notowidigdo, Matthew J.. 2013. Duration dependence and labor market conditions: Evidence from a field experiment. The Quarterly Journal of Economics 128(3):1123–67.
Krueger, Alan B., Cramer, Judd, and Cho, David. 2014a. Are the Long-Term Unemployed on the Margins of the Market? Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.
Krueger, Alan B., Cramer, Judd, and Cho, David. 2014b. Are the long-term unemployed on the margins of the market? Presentation at Brookings Panel on Economic Activity, Washington, DC.
Lane, Carrie M. 2011. A Company of One: Insecurity, Independence, and the New World of White-Collar Unemployment. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Liu, Songqi, Huang, Jason L., and Wang, Mo. 2014. Effectiveness of job search interventions: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin 140:1009–41.
Major, B., and O'Brien, L. T.. 2005. The social psychology of stigma. Annual Review of Psychology 56:393421.
Major, B., Quinton, W. J., and Schmader, T.. 2003. Attributions to discrimination and self-esteem: Impact of social identification and group ambiguity. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 39:220–31.
McGee, Micki. 2005. Self-Help, Inc.: Makeover Culture in American Life. New York: Oxford University Press.
McKee-Ryan, Frances, Song, Zhaoli, Wanberg, Connie R., and Kinicki, Angelo J.. 2005. Psychological and physical well-being during unemployment: A meta-analytic study. Journal of Applied Psychology 90(1):53.
Newman, Katherine. 1999. Falling from Grace: Downward Mobility in the Age of Affluence. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Paul, Karsten I., and Moser, Klaus. 2009. Unemployment impairs mental health: Meta-analyses. Journal of Vocational Behavior 74:264–82.
Rantakeisu, U., Starrin, B., and Hagquist, C.. 1999. Financial hardship and shame: A tentative model to understand the social and health effects of unemployment. British Journal of Social Work 29(6):877901.
Rivera, Lauren A. 2012. Hiring as cultural matching: The case of elite professional service firms. American Sociological Review 77(6):9991022.
Rix, Sara E. 2014. The Employment Situation, January 2014, and a Look Back at 2013: Fewer Older Workers Unemployed, More Out of the Labor Force. Washington, DC: AARP.
Ryan, Richard M., and Deci, Edward L. 2000. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology 25:5467.
Schlozman, Kay Lehman, and Verba, Sidney. 1979. Injury to Insult: Unemployment, Class and Political Response. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Sharone, Ofer. 2007. Constructing unemployed job seekers as professional workers: The depoliticizing work-game of job searching. Qualitative Sociology 30(4):403–16.
Sharone, Ofer. 2013. Flawed System/Flawed Self: Job-Searching and Unemployment Experiences. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Sharone, Ofer, Ghayad, Rand, Basbug, Gocke, Vasquez, Alex, and Rosin, Michelle. 2015. Supporting experienced LTU professionals. In Transforming U.S. Workforce Development Policies for the 21st Century, edited by Van Horn, Carl E., Greene, Todd, and Edwards, Tammy. Kalamazoo, MI: Upjohn Institute Press.
Smith, Vicki. 2001. Crossing the Great Divide: Worker Risk and Opportunity in the New Economy. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Swanson, Jane L. 2012. Work and psychological health. In APA Handbook of Counseling Psychology, edited by Fouad, Nadya, 327. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Swidler, Ann. 1986. Culture in action: Symbols and strategies. American Sociological Review 51:273.
Townsend, S. S., Major, B., Gangi, C. E., and Mendes, W. B.. 2011. From “in the air” to “under the skin”: Cortisol responses to social identity threat. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 37(2):151–64.
Uchitelle, Louis. 2006. The Disposable American: Layoffs and Their Consequences. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
US Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2015. Employment Situation – August. Washington, DC: US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Van Horn, Carl, and Zukin, Cliff. 2009. The Anguish of Unemployment. New Brunswick, NJ: Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, Rutgers University.
Van Horn, Carl, Zukin, Cliff, and Kopicki, Alison. 2014. Left Behind: The Long-Term Unemployed Struggle in an Improving Economy. New Brunswick, NJ: Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, Rutgers University.
Wanberg, Connie R. 2012. The individual experience of unemployment. Annual Review of Psychology 63:369–96.
Wanberg, Connie R., Zhu, Jing, Kanfer, Ruth, and Zhang, Zhen. 2012. After the pink slip: Applying dynamic motivation frameworks to the job search experience. Academy of Management Journal 55:261–84.
Watts, Roderick J., Diemer, Matthew A., and Voight, Adam M.. 2011. Critical consciousness: Current status and future directions. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development 134:4357.
Wilson, William J. 1996. When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor. New York: Knopf.
Yang, Jie. 2015. Unknotting the Heart: Unemployment and Therapeutic Governance in China. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Zukin, Cliff, Van Horn, Carl, and Stone, Charley. 2011. Out of Work and Losing Hope: The Misery and Bleak Expectations of American Workers. New Brunswick, NJ: Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, Rutgers University.