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Are the Long-Term Unemployed “Damaged Goods”?

Unemployment -- is it "catching"? Worse, does it make us "rejects"?

In the couple of months since my blog about unemployment has been running at AOL Jobs, I’ve heard from many people, both across the U.S. and around the world, who are dealing with the unique and sometimes painful challenges of unemployment. 

A lot of us feel very isolated in what we’re experiencing, so there’s some comfort in knowing that we’re not alone. It’s one thing to read the statistic there are 23.5 million un- and under-employed people in the U.S., but another thing to actually read and share each other’s stories. It helps.

It can also be depressing. I’ve had tears in my eyes while reading emails from some who’ve shared their stories with me, who’ve gone through so much more difficult times than I have, whose struggles seem daunting and nearly insurmountable. 

One of these readers wrote of her feelings about chronic joblessness. I’ve written here about the stigma that’s frequently associated with unemployment, especially when it becomes long-term, and about the anger that can accompany it; but this woman described these in a way that I haven’t been able to shake from my mind.

“Nobody wants to be like us, so we get ignored or (are) kept at a distance or (are) treated like we are damaged,” she said. “I think it’s part of the caste system that we have in the U.S…(there are) the homeless, then the unemployed, then the underemployed.”

I have this image in my head of scenes from that classic movie, Ben Hur, where it depicted Ben Hur’s family members who suffered from leprosy (known as Hansen’s disease today). No one wanted to be near them for fear of catching what they had.

Are we long-term unemployed contagious, to be feared somehow, as if we’ll bring, not illness, but bad luck to those who come into contact with us? Are we looked down upon, as if we’re inferior to people with full-time jobs?

I wrote back to the reader that I had never thought about it this way, but that it’s undoubtedly true, especially the longer our joblessness drags on.

Maybe potential employers do consider us to be pariahs. This could be why, the longer we’re out of work, the less likely we are to ever be hired.

I don’t want to think this way. I can’t think this way, at least not for too long. It’s just too discouraging. It makes things seem hopeless.

But what if it’s true?  Once we’re labeled “long-term unemployed,” are we branded forever, like Hester Prynne in “The Scarlet Letter”? If we are, then what can we do about it?

Nothing.  That’s why we can’t let ourselves think this way.

Unlike Hester, we did not bring this upon ourselves. It’s not our fault. It may be our past and present, but it doesn’t have to be our future.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Stewart Linder October 03, 2012 at 12:24 PM
Fran, This was excellent and very timely for me. I have been feeling like I have the big "LTU" on my back for long-term unemployed. Thanks for helping us out through your blog. Stewart
Fran Hopkins October 03, 2012 at 06:41 PM
Thanks, Stewart. The discussion among all of us who are going through this has helped me so much too.
Ivy Pittman October 05, 2012 at 04:19 AM
Stewart, you are not alone.
Patrick Ambrose October 10, 2012 at 01:17 PM
There's a lot working against the unemployed in today's labor market and economy. The long-term unemployed, especially, face hardship and bias that other Americans who haven't lost their jobs won't have to experience. Although many unemployed don't especially like to self-identify as such, they indeed belong to a group with interests (e.g. unemployment insurance, protection from unemployment discrimination) to advance and protect. The unemployed need advocates and advocacy to help them, and a group of long-term unemployed launched Unemployed Rising (http://unemployedrising.com) on Labor Day 2011 to help do just that. We invite you to visit our website, Facebook and Twitter pages, and YouTube Channel.

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