The New York Times describes the men who aren’t included in the unemployment statistics any more because they’ve quit looking for work.
“When you were in high school and kept asking the head cheerleader out for a date and she kept saying no, at some point you stopped asking her,” he said. “It becomes a ‘why bother?’ scenario.”
What do people do after they give up looking for work? When they’ve used up the savings, sold off the boat, then the rowboat, and have given up on the mortage? The biggest danger is they “do nothing”. The lack of money, while bad enough, is apparently not the worst of it. For some, unemployment causes their lives to collapse into a kind of shapelessness, and the loss of comforting routine and the support of peers brings about a kind of listlessness from which it hard to escape.
Researcher Marie Jahoda noted that many people define their lives through work. “Employment … imposes a time structure on the waking day; … it demonstrates that there are goals and purposes which are beyond the scope of an individual … it enforces activity” When this scaffolding is taken away some people fall into a heap and the decline is often rapid. Ironically, even people who get a regular check can be destroyed by lack of activity. Retirement can often cause the same psychological dislocation. One website writes:
retirement brings … the risk of boredom and a sense of purposelessness that can lead to depression and other health problems … there are many men … who have not experienced much variation in their daily routine for a long time, such a major change of lifestyle is often very stressful.
The sad fact is that even after a life comes crashing down, the days go unremittingly on. The calendar keeps turning the page even when no replies to any of the applications are received, nor any prospect of being received. When employment starts becoming something that happened long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away then the dictates of survival often require simply inventing a new narrative to justify your existence, not because it makes any sense but simply because it helps you to go on. Below are two videos illustrating different responses to losing a job. Maybe it doesn’t matter what story a person tells himself, so long as he tells himself one; something he can arm himself with when the sun comes up again just so there’s a place on the horizon to walk to next. And who knows what’ll be there? Who knows?