The Health Equity Blog’s mission is to contribute to the discussion of health policy using evidence and research, to explore the opportunities for health equity through policy change, to raise awareness about health disparities, and to increase public advocacy for health equality.

According to the CDC, “Health equity is achieved when every person has the opportunity to ‘attain his or her full health potential’ and no one is ‘disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or other socially determined circumstances.’”

Achievement of full health potential is necessary in all aspects of life – from running errands to relationships with loved ones. Some people are born into environments that limit their ability to achieve their full health potential. We believe that because society created many health inequalities, society can also fix them.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Long Term Unemployment and Mental Health

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” 
*Martin Luther King Jr.

In the news: Unemployment Benefits Cut
The current unemployment rate in the United States is 6.7% (December 2013), a rate that is down from the height of the Great Recession.  Unemployment benefits have been in the news because Congress failed to renew an aid program for the jobless. Roughly 1.3 million Americans lost their insurance benefits last month. States vary on the number of weeks an unemployed person receives benefits.


Long Term Unemployment
Most economists define chronic unemployment to be a period of unemployment lasting longer than six months. It is important to note when calculating most unemployment statistics, those that are underemployed or not actively searching for a job are not counted. In November 2013, the chronically unemployed made up 37% of total unemployed people. While the overall unemployment rate is lowering over time, the rate of the chronically unemployed remains stagnant.

For those that experience long periods of unemployment, it is more challenging to get a job. The reasons for this could be an outdated skill set or a possible employer’s bias to hire someone currently unemployed. The long-time unemployed tend to be people who worked in manufacturing or construction and are older. Many companies do not look at the resumes of the long-term unemployed.

Long-term Unemployment and Mental Health
People that are unemployed understand the stress associated with joblessness. The process of looking for a job, in many cases, is much harder than the jobs itself. No income, high levels of uncertainty, and limited health insurance is terrifying. WBEZ (Chicago Public Media) had a segment about the emotional expense of unemployment. This conversation went beyond the financial toll of unemployment to the impact of mental health. Chronic unemployment is associated with higher rates of depression and suicide.

In 2011 the CDC found that suicide rates rise when the economy is bad. The federal government statistics on suicide released in May 2013 showed a 28% increase in suicides for 35-64 year olds between 1999 and 2000. The unemployment rate peaked in 2009. Researchers find that those who are looking for work are about twice as likely to end their lives as those who have jobs.  As economic stress increases, the incidence of anxiety disorders increase. To add to the pain of losing a job, most people quickly lose health insurance. Without health insurance, it is expensive to see a doctor or mental health provider. The Affordable Care Act might help people obtain health insurance in the future. It is important to point out that unemployment and suicide are not causal but rather correlated factors.

Back to that funding cut
Long term unemployment is a serious problem and not just for the economy. Long-term joblessness is a serious risk factor for suicide and depression. Much of the national discussion about unemployment benefits are centered on time limits - the number of weeks of unemployment benefits available for the newly unemployed. However, placing time limits on unemployment benefits is hurting the group of people who have the hardest time finding employment - the long-term unemployed. In many cases, unemployment benefits are not handouts, they are lifelines. The link between unemployment and mental health must be discussed and not stigmatized. I urge Congress to renew spending for unemployment programs. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr., if you see injustice somewhere do something. Contact your Representatives and Senators and let them know how you feel.

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