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Potemkin
12-07-2008, 07:34 PM
http://www.thestar.com/news/ideas/article/549676

What happens to the laid-off worker?

A U.S. study found people who lose their jobs are much less likely to be involved in their communities. The good news is that laid-off Canadians don't become so disengaged
Dec 07, 2008 04:30 AM
Comments on this story (6)
Sarah Barmak
Special to the Star

Imagine yourself arriving at work on Monday morning and discovering your job is no more. Perhaps you had felt your position was a relatively stable one, or maybe you saw it coming. No matter.

Now, imagine that you're scheduled to go to a parent council meeting at your children's school later that week. Your monthly book club gathering is a week after that. You're sure to see friends there who still have their jobs, and who will ask you how work is going.

Do you put on a brave face and go anyway, admitting that you no longer have a job? Or do you stay home that week? What about the next week?

According to U.S. researchers, you are more likely to stay home. A groundbreaking study says that losing your job can have a negative impact on your inclination to participate in your community. Getting fired can curtail everything from helping out with a food drive and volunteering at homeless shelters to coaching little league soccer, attending houses of worship and even enjoying leisure activities. And those effects can last for decades, and can endure long after a person has found work again.

In what its researchers claim is the first study to look at the long-term impact of job loss on social participation, the findings show that people who have experienced one involuntary change in their employment status are 35-per-cent less likely to be involved in their communities than those who have never been through a job loss due to layoffs, downsizing or a business closure. The study, which looked at 4,373 people who had graduated from Wisconsin high schools in 1957, was conducted jointly by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Michigan.

The paper adds to a growing body of research that shows that losing your job has wide-ranging effects on areas including health, mental well-being and marital strife.

Amid a looming recession and mass layoffs in the auto and manufacturing sectors, the idea that firings can have an effect on society as a whole is worrying. In the U.S., there were 2,140 mass layoffs resulting in 232,468 jobs lost in October only, as measured by new filings for unemployment insurance benefits during the month, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In Canada, meanwhile, Statistics Canada reported late last week that layoffs skyrocketed to nearly 71,000 nationally in November, the worst monthly loss since June 1982.Ontario was hit hardest with a decline of 66,000 jobs. An astounding 38,000 manufacturing jobs were lost.

If one laid-off worker stops going to her church's bake sales, helping out at a food bank or visiting her rotary club, it's unfortunate. But what happens when you multiply that number by hundreds of thousands?

Do mass layoffs result in a society of loners, people who opt out of civic engagement?

Maybe it does in the U.S., say Canadian authorities on labour and volunteerism. Here, however, it may not be that simple.

IN 2000, AMERICAN political scientist Robert D. Putnam published his influential book on the social fabric of U.S. communities, Bowling Alone. In it he argued that the civic health of a neighbourhood could be indicated by different activities – local barbeques, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People meetings, the Lion's Club, town halls and, yes, team bowling. Citing surveys, he wrote that Americans used to engage in these activities but are doing so no longer.

Last year, he sounded an even dourer note, adding ethnic and cultural divisions to the list of things increasing community distrust and malaise.

It was with this background of civic dissolution in mind that researchers Jennie E. Brand, an assistant professor of sociology at UCLA, and her co-author, University of Michigan sociologist Sarah A. Burgard, decided to look at the effect of layoffs on social networks.

They found that non-displaced workers were 1.2 to 1.5 times more likely to participate in all forms of social and community activities than workers who had been laid off. Worse, fired workers can stay reluctant to be involved in social and civic events for decades after they were fired, even after they have found new jobs and no longer worry about their incomes.

Because researchers used data gathered from a more than 45-year longitudinal study that didn't ask why subjects refrained from civic activities, they don't know exactly why losing their jobs prompted people to withdraw from their communities so severely. Downward mobility and depression explained some of it, but not all.

"It could also be that people move away from their communities," says Brand, the lead author of the study. "Displaced workers are more likely to be divorced, and married people are more likely to participate."

There could also be another reason – shame.

"Your 30s to early 50s, that's the stage of life when you're supposed to be upwardly mobile in your career," not starting fresh, she says. "Social contact becomes strained, not as comfortable; they don't want to talk about their situation."

Brand also hypothesizes that losing a job may make it seem that a basic social contract has been violated. And workers will feel less inclined to "give back" to society in return.

"People who are impacted by these displacements start to think, `Society isn't working for me, maybe I shouldn't be working for it,'" says Brand.

Think of it as the downside to the notion of "paying it forward."

Considering a portion of the Wisconsin grads in the study went on to move to nearby Michigan, it seems some could have been affected by the decades-old downturn in the auto industry there. The consequences of the mass layoffs they experienced, then, should logically be the same for residents of Oshawa, say, or St. Thomas – two Ontario towns hit hard by mass layoffs in recent years.

THERE ARE NO equivalent Canadian data on civic involvement and unemployment. But there are encouraging reasons to think that we may be immune to the apathy and disengagement that befall those who are laid off down south. Seventy-three-year-old Simcoe Hall Settlement House, Durham Region's multi-tasking community resource centre, has been swamped in recent months. The centre, which runs everything from a food bank to after-school programs, is currently in the throes of its Christmas food and toy drive. It normally has the capacity to give food and toy baskets to 750 to 825 families, but last year registration swelled to 1,017. This year, Simcoe Hall expects to get 1,100.

When asked if its ranks of volunteers – which it "couldn't exist without" – had gone down along with the area's mass layoffs, executive director Sandra Sweet said not at all. Quite the opposite, in fact.

"People who haven't helped before are being inspired to step forward and help."

At the Oshawa Public Library, the book club also appears to be alive and well, according to supervisor Tammy Robinson. Library membership as a whole has gone up.

According to Liz Brown, executive director of Violence Against Women Services Elgin County, an emergency women's shelter, donations have been flagging but volunteer hours have stayed constant. "St. Thomas has had a lot of painful economic times in the past, and this is a huge, huge loss for the community. My belief is that we will band together. People still rally to support women and children in need."

Representatives from Volunteer Toronto, an agency that connects volunteers with organizations that need them, along with the YMCA of Greater Toronto, the GTA Salvation Army and Toronto's Daily Bread Food Bank all report that they have seen the same level of volunteers come out to help since the recession began.

Deborah Gardner, executive director of Volunteer Toronto, believes that layoffs and economic hardship may not lead to disengagement with one's community here because "volunteering in the States and Canada is quite different in terms of how it plays out in real life.

"People who have been laid off and haven't been able to go back to their field will often use volunteering as a way to continue to be engaged in your community and a way to have structure in your life."

Rather than being seen as something given in return for living in a prosperous society, volunteering in Canada is seen as a potential aid, she suggests.

"When you meet someone, what's one of the first things they ask you? It's, `What do you do?'" she says. "When you're laid off, that part of your identity has disappeared. (With volunteering), you can still have an identity, and that's critical while you're transitioning from one job to another."

THERE MIGHT BE A REASON laid-off Canadians don't withdraw from civic engagement quite as much, postulates University of Windsor professor of labour studies Marshall Bastable – Canadians' perception that social programs exist to help them.

"Canadians like to define themselves by their social safety nets and programs, so we could just be more aware of these kinds of things and more willing to use them," he offers. "In Windsor, we're being hit so hard (by layoffs), and business and political leaders have really sprung into action. There's a sense that the community is doing something."

Professor Carla Lipsig-Mummé, co-ordinator of York University's labour studies program, agrees that Canadians' awareness and expectation of social programs – as well as the programs themselves – make a difference.

"People don't totally fall through the cracks when they lose their job," she says.

She adds that Putnam's vision of community participation, which does not include activism or government involvement, is incomplete.

"Something that Putnam wants to write out is the government role. There's a sense in Canada that society includes government.

"We know one area where participation is growing (in Canada) is advocacy groups" – organizations that tackle issues of homelessness or the environment.

In fact, the U.S. study showed that political organizations were among the kinds of involvement unemployed workers did not withdraw from.

The professors' ideas have plenty of precedent. Half a century ago, American political sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset praised Canadians' openness to the idea of greater government control over social programs. He wrote admiringly of the development of the CCF (later the NDP) in Saskatchewan, opposing it to Americans' notions of individual initiative and exceptionalism.

More research is necessary to study the social effects of layoffs in Canada, experts say. But until we do, evidence suggests that Canadians have reason to be optimistic tha t communities dealing with the already serious problems that go with mass layoffs may not see volunteerism and civic engagement falter. Those who stand up and help out even after they are dealt the blow of a layoff speak of a subtle, but telling difference that makes our country special.

rb.
12-07-2008, 08:26 PM
"People who have been laid off and haven't been able to go back to their field will often use volunteering as a way to continue to be engaged in your community and a way to have structure in your life."

Rather than being seen as something given in return for living in a prosperous society, volunteering in Canada is seen as a potential aid, she suggests.

"When you meet someone, what's one of the first things they ask you? It's, `What do you do?'" she says. "When you're laid off, that part of your identity has disappeared. (With volunteering), you can still have an identity, and that's critical while you're transitioning from one job to another."


Back in the early to mid 80s, I remember up here there was a big push in advice to those without work, to get out there and volunteer. Not only was it to promote better self esteem, but also networking. Volunteer work was promoted as a good way to make connections to help find work, even if it wasn't in your field. It also provided a fill for what would otherwise be a hole in your resume.

I've noticed a definite uptick in the number of people in two different branches of our public library, the number of people at the Santa Claus parade last night, and other public/civic events. I think what may be happening is that people are losing their "money" orientation, and going back to their "social" orientation. For example, we are cutting the premium movie channels in our cable package. Without that entertainment, we are far more likely to seek entertainment OUTSIDE the house. We have an awful lot of free/next to free swims, skates, etc. here, especially over the holidays. I would expect that those who are laid off, or had hours cut back, will now spend quality family time at those events with their kids or grandkids. Which, to me, is an advantage to this downward spiral.

dyrt
12-07-2008, 10:24 PM
I think the study is right. I have seen it happen and certainly have felt the funk and shame of losing my income. But rb is exactly right. The best thing a person can do is to buck it up and get out there and network. The better than best thing is to be involved in your community at all times. I have seen it time and again. When one of those that are constantly doing things for others has a bad time; medical, job loss, etc. then the others do a fund raiser. The network buzzes with ideas for taking care of their kids, house or job opportunities.

I have preached this since 1999 when the Y2K doomers were in full bloom. If you want to get through bad times, get involved. Stay involved. Don't imagine a doom and gloom future that has not happened yet. Help others no matter how much you have.

Isolation kills.

Fattail
12-08-2008, 02:04 PM
I can understand the isolation and reluctance to volunteer after you lose a job, or take a lower paying one. Someone just told me I'm not as valuable as I previously thought and here you want me to offer my services for free. No thank you my self worth is low enough.

Probably working a second job, or looking for more work is also a likely reason not to be out and about.

jane333
12-08-2008, 03:50 PM
A friend of ours in his mid-fifties got laid off a few months ago. First, he and his wife took a vacation. Then he looked online for work in his field. Now he's attending classes locally to help him decide on another line of work. He still plays gigs with the band, comes to holiday parties, still visits with his kids and grandkids. I suppose it depends on who you are as to how you cope.

When I spent several years looking for work, I had already been volunteering in my spare time all that decade and found it just as interesting as paid work, if not more. It also gave me time to work on several large projects at home, to plant a garden, and advocate for my kids at their schools.

A.T. Hagan
12-08-2008, 04:01 PM
How many resources you have at your disposal plays a large role here. Someone who can afford to go on vacation, play gigs with a band, and take classes to decide on his next line of work isn't really worrying about how he's going to buy groceries that week or make the mortgage payment.

Most of what has been described in this thread sounds like upper middle class laid off workers who weren't living paycheck to paycheck before they were laid off. The folks that do are not likely to see themselves as being able to afford to do all that volunteering. That stuff costs money. Even if it's just gas money it's still an out of pocket expense at a time when they're afraid they may not even be able to afford a pocket before much longer.

.....Alan.

jane333
12-08-2008, 04:48 PM
True. But at fifty-five, a good bunch of us will not be living paycheck to paycheck, that is, if the banks don't go belly up. That's the beauty of middle age...your kids are grown so you can finally save for retirement, your parent's assets are now yours, and the big medical bills are still in the future and will hopefully be covered by Medicare and secondary insurance when the time comes. Certainly there are people who earn $7/hour over their whole lifetimes, and these are often the uneducated and ineducable. For them there're food stamps, foodbanks, housing assistance, welfare, subsidized medical, etc. etc. etc.

rb.
12-08-2008, 07:30 PM
How many resources you have at your disposal plays a large role here. Someone who can afford to go on vacation, play gigs with a band, and take classes to decide on his next line of work isn't really worrying about how he's going to buy groceries that week or make the mortgage payment.

Most of what has been described in this thread sounds like upper middle class laid off workers who weren't living paycheck to paycheck before they were laid off. The folks that do are not likely to see themselves as being able to afford to do all that volunteering. That stuff costs money. Even if it's just gas money it's still an out of pocket expense at a time when they're afraid they may not even be able to afford a pocket before much longer.

.....Alan.

Then maybe we live in different types of communities. I see people of all ages out walking, all seasons, biking spring, summer and fall, and we have a great public transit system. We may be spread out as a city, but most in this city, if able-bodied, are out there walking either for leisure, health, or as a mode of transportation. And if it gets you out when you would have no reason otherwise, and possibly stretches your job skills, earns you new ones, and puts you in contact with WORKING people, you're way ahead of the game, emotionally, and sooner or later, financially. Sitting at home, if you need a job, just makes one depressed. If you don't need it, and can afford to be unemployed and still vacation, more power to ya'.