Job Insecurity is the Disease of the 21st Century,and It’s Killing Us:
The 21st century started not with a bang, but with a bust. Two, in fact. First, the Internet collapse and then, after a brief and illusory reprieve in which the employment rate never returned to its previous level, the financial crash. The economy remains stubbornly stuck in second gear. Job insecurity is nothing new for those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. Since the ’70s and ’80s, a shifting labor market and anti-worker policies have been fraying the ties between employers and employees, fueling the perception that a job is a temporary affair. Globalization, outsourcing, contracting, downsizing, and recession have conspired to make confidence in a stable, long-term job a privilege that few can enjoy. But the global recession has blown the numbers experiencing persistent job insecurity through the roof. In the U.S., the stress of three years of unemployment over 8 percent – the longest stretch at that level since the Great Depression – has rocketed our anxieties to new heights, even among traditionally secure workers. In Europe, where employees have enjoyed more protections, workers are feeling increasingly stressed, often trapped in low-wage and temporary employment with few benefits. Even in Germany, this trend of part-time “mini-jobs” is wiping away the old image of Europe as a worker-friendly land of happy, full-time employment. Compared to other western nations, Americans have few buffers when things go badly. New Deal policies meant to protect us from brutal economic downturns have been systematically shredded. At a time of high unemployment and union disintegration, employers have less incentive to provide health care and fair contracts. The vulture capitalism of profiteering firms like Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital, which make a quick buck by bankrupting companies and laying off employees, has created a global image of America as a place where working people are so many carcasses to be picked over by financiers. Better-educated workers are still more secure than others, but a diploma is no longer the magic ticket for holding on to a job. That’s why the U.S. graduates of 2012 are more concerned with job security than any other aspect of employment, including salary and benefits, one study found. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Our capitalist endeavor was supposed to make us safe from the vagaries of weather conditions and arbitrary events that harassed our ancestors. But somehow we’ve ended up more worried than ever. Anxiety disorders now plague 18 percent of the U.S. adult population –- a whopping 40 million people. Only half that number is affected by mood disorders. The drug alprazolam — familiar by its brand name, Xanax — was prescribed 46.3 million times in 2010, making it that year’s bestselling psychiatric drug. Prozac, the happiness-and-optimism pill, has been pushed aside by a medication meant to just help you get through the day without collapsing in a puddle of anxiety. It’s easy to see the appeal of popping a Xanax. A recent survey by the American Psychological Association paints a picture of workers on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
- Sixty-two percent say work has a significant impact on their stress levels.
- Almost 50 percent indicate their stress levels have increased between 2007 and 2008.
- Forty-five percent of workers say job insecurity has a significant impact on stress levels.
Today even bankers are doing time in the prison of job insecurity. Recent layoffs sent a shudder down the gold-plated halls of Goldman Sachs, which has slashed 8.5 percent of its workforce over the last year over worries about the European debt crisis and other negative indicators. A recent study in Michigan found that insecure workers were significantly more likely to meet criteria for major or minor depression and to report a recent anxiety attack, even after taking into consideration factors like race, education, poorer prior health, and higher likelihood of recent unemployment. Conclusion: Many of those who have managed to hang onto their jobs during the Great Recession are getting mentally and physically wrecked – often more so than those who have lost their jobs. The study found that chronic job insecurity was a stronger predictor of poor health than either smoking or hypertension. Months, even years, are shaved off of life expectancy. Suicide rates are known to increase during economic downturns, and middle-age workers are especially vulnerable. Last year, suicide rates were at an all-time high in Connecticut, fueled by a sharp increase in rates among middle-age men. Middle-aged workers may still have plenty to offer, but employers often consider them used goods. In an economy with sky-high youth joblessness, employers know that there are young, inexperienced people that can be paid little and exploited at will. The jobs of older workers may be “restructured,” the pace sped up, the pay reduced. Why don’t the media spend more time investigating job insecurity? Maybe we avoid it because it hits too close to home.