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Job Loss Has Long-Term Impact on Social Lives

Those displaced more likely to withdraw from clubs, but older workers fare better, study finds

TUESDAY, Sept. 9, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Getting laid off affects not only one's economic well-being, it also curtails one's involvement in community and social activities, a new study found.

The study, by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, found that workers who had experienced even one involuntary job loss were 35 percent less likely to be involved in their communities than those who had never been out of work because of layoff, restructuring or a business closing or relocating.

The break from community involvement -- whether it meant dropping out from a book club or no longer participating in the PTA -- continued for the remainder of the workers' lives, not just for the period of unemployment, according to the study.

"Social engagement often involves an element of social trust and a sense that things are reciprocal -- that you give some support if you get some support, and you benefit from society if society benefits from you," study lead author Jennie E. Brand, a UCLA sociologist, said in a university news release. "When workers are displaced, the tendency is to feel as though the social contract has been violated, and we found that they are less likely to reciprocate."

The findings, which examined the long-term impact of job displacement on social participation, were published in the September issue of the journal Social Forces. The research was based on information from a study that tracked 4,373 Wisconsin high school graduates (class of 1957) for more than 45 years.

Displaced workers were most likely to withdraw from participating in youth and community groups, followed by church and church groups, charitable organizations and leisurely activities, such as country club attendance. Professional organizations were the least likely to be affected by a disruption of employment.

"Displaced workers may be more likely to keep up with professional groups than other groups, because they're trying to make up for lost ground with respect to their careers," Brand said.

The social withdrawal occurred most with those displaced during their peak earning years -- between 35 and 53 years of age. Employees who lost jobs near the end of their careers were less likely to withdraw than workers who were displaced earlier in their careers.

"Being laid off doesn't appear to be as socially damaging for older workers as younger ones," Brand said. "The shame factor of downsizing your lifestyle just isn't there, because your peers may be downsizing as well, and you can play off your displacement as an early retirement even though it may be forced retirement."

The findings have considerable ramifications not just for society, but also for the individual's attempt to find new work, Brand contended.

"If workers withdraw socially after being laid off, then they're experiencing double-jeopardy," Brand said. "They're losing their jobs, and then they're not participating in society, so they're not keeping up with social contacts that might help them find a new job."

Brand said charities and community groups might want to work harder at reaching out to displaced workers for the good of the organization and for the worker's own good.

"Everybody loses when people withdraw from society," Brand said.

More information

The U.S. Department of Labor has more about dealing with a job loss.

SOURCE: University of California, Los Angeles, news release, Sept. 1, 2008
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