Originally published May 1st, 2012, this article puts the Great Recession into a larger historical context.
Unemployment, Recession Stress, and Statistics
We are all stressed by the recession. With so many of us out of work, often months and years after our home states cut off our unemployment income, it is easy to feel pessimistic about our future. Indeed, as a society, our mental health has suffered greatly since the housing and financial sector bubbles burst in 2008. The stress of unemployment, particularly long term unemployment for those who have lost their jobs and, for those still working, the experience of unusually high job insecurity has taken a very dramatic and devastating toll on our health. A recent study by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) (http://www.cadca.org/resources/detail/study-finds-correlation-between-rapid-rise-unemployment-and-alcohol-abuse) found “a rise of 3 percent in unemployment is associated with a 28 percent increase in deaths from alcohol abuse and a 4.5 percent increase in suicides in the population younger than age 65.”
The study goes on to observe, “The stress of recessions, particularly of unemployment, seemed to markedly increase rates of death from intentional violence, with women particularly affected by homicide and men by suicide.”
So no, you have not been imagining that stress you are under-and you are not alone.
But perhaps we do not need to feel as insecure and isolated as we do. As so many of us experience hunger and food insecurity in particular (for statistics, see interactive map athttp://feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/hunger-studies/map-the-meal-gap.aspx?convio_source=Y12X1GSEM&convio_subsource=gfoodinsecure), we are bound to feel stress. I feel that stress, particularly after losing my unemployment benefits in April, 2011 and facing thousands of dollars in new debt caused by injury and illness, including a recent stroke.
But for all of this, I am comforted by looking at the unemployment data from 1929 to 1941 found at
http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1528.html (data derived from the US Census). In 1933 the unemployment rate was 24.75%. By the end of the Great Depression, generally considered to be December, 1941, the unemployment rate had fallen to 9.66%.
Now compare these statistics with those from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (http://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS14000000) for this recession. From 2002 to the autumn of 2008, the mean unemployment rate generally remained between 5.0% and 6.0%. This is our baseline for what was “normal” before the bubbles burst. But as many of us have lost our jobs since September, 2008, the job loss surge was actually rather modest when compared with the job loss progression of the 1930s. The highest unemployment rate (again, excluding the long term unemployed no longer receiving state benefits) came in October, 2009 when 10% of Americans were unemployed. Since then, we’ve seen improvements that most of us seem to ignore. From November, 2009 through September, 2011 the unemployment rate danced between 9.0% and 9.9% with steady employment gains since. March, 2012 statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics record an unemployment rate of 8.2%. That’s 1.4% LOWER than the December, 1941 unemployment rate that ended the Great Depression!
Life is hard-but if we put our hardships into perspective, if we examine how our families coped with much higher job losses, and if we return to a community-centric society where people help one another instead of always focusing on themselves, I believe we can weather this recession-better and stronger than before.