The Situationist

Archive for February 4th, 2011

The Costs of Unemployment

Posted by Adam Benforado on February 4, 2011

It’s week four of my Law and Mind Sciences Seminar, which means students are reading articles about hedonic adaptation.

In reviewing the assigned papers, I was reminded (in a footnote!) of an interesting study by Richard E. Lucas, Andrew Clark, Yannis Georgellis, and Ed Diener from several years ago on how becoming unemployed can alter the set point for life satisfaction.  As the authors explain in the abstract:

According to set-point theories of subjective well-being, people react to events but then return to baseline levels of happiness and satisfaction over time. We tested this idea by examining reaction and adaptation to unemployment in a 15-year longitudinal study of more than 24,000 individuals living in Germany.  In accordance with set-point theories, individuals reacted strongly to unemployment and then shifted back toward their baseline levels of life satisfaction.  However, on average, individuals did not completely return to their former levels of satisfaction, even after they became reemployed.  Furthermore, contrary to expectations from adaptation theories, people who had experienced unemployment in the past did not react any less negatively to a new bout of unemployment than did people who had not been previously unemployed.  These results suggest that although life satisfaction is moderately stable over time, life events can have a strong influence on long-term levels of subjective well-being.

The research is, of course, particularly troubling given our current economic climate.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics from December 2010, 14.5 Americans are currently unemployed — 9.4% of the U.S. labor force. And certain populations are being hit particularly hard, with 15.8% of blacks unemployed and 13.0% of Hispanics.  (As an aside, Google has an impressive charting function that allows you to graph unemployment data by state over time for comparison purposes.  Check it out here.)

What’s to be done?

I hope my students have some answers, but with a largely 3L class trying desperately to line up post-graduation jobs in a terrible legal job market, their minds may be elsewhere.

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