Unemployment Impacts More than Your Wallet

National unemployment rates were averaged at 9.5% in July 2010 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They also stated that the median time a person has spent in unemployment is 25.5 weeks, about 6 months.

Six months is the time we recommend any job seeker to devote to the job search process. This provides a little relief to know that this average hasn’t changed much considering this recession is about twice as bad as in the 1980s. Even though the job seeking timeline and median unemployment rate matches, the psychological affects have climbed.

The Snowball Effect

It doesn’t help that the media continues to report on how bad the unemployment trends are within our economy. Just yesterday I received a phone call from a media representative who wanted to do a story on the fact that the unemployment rates haven’t changed and how that impacts my job as a career counselor and the job seekers.

Honestly, what impacts the job seekers outlook most is this developed sense of hopelessness.

Even though we’re able to still hold job fairs with local employers looking to fill 50-100+ jobs, the number of seekers attending the fairs has decreased since the start of the recession in 2007.

This sense of hopelessness with the job market snowballs and as it increases it also impacts additional areas of a person’s life. The Pew Research Center published recent findings that unemployment not only affects finances, but also relations with family and friends and a loss of self-respect.

It’s interesting that the time we need our family and friends the most is also the time we tend to cause strain on the relationships, or just ignore them completely. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

This is a time to strengthen relationships and really use them to their full potential. All those years of being there for your friends and family should have some residual effect when it’s your turn to need help. Like I’ve said in some previous posts, no person is an island and you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help.

Self-respect is probably the most critical area that’s impacted by unemployment. If you lose self-respect then you’re decreasing your networking effectiveness, chances to be hired, and overall productiveness of the job search. In essence a loss of self-respect could spiral people into depression.

Employers want to hire candidates with confidence and competence to do the job well, and if your self-respect has lowered then it’s likely your confidence and ability to market yourself in a job interview has also decreased. If you’re not sure about your level of self-respect then ask yourself how often you use negative language, like “I can’t…,” “This will never…,” or “No one will help me.”

A Positive Effect

There has been one potential positive effect from the recent unemployment, a reassessment of career goals. The forced change of losing a job can lead to a reevaluation of career goals, interests, and overall job and life satisfaction. More and more people are seeking out professional development opportunities and training options to increase their marketability.

An even bigger trend, which I’ve seen through counseling appointments, is an interest in returning to school and changing career directions completely. I’ve heard more people state things like “for the past 20 years I’ve worked to support myself (and my family) but it was never what I really wanted to do. Now I have the option to change my career, but I’m not sure how to go about it.” I applaud this risk taking behavior because it could mean an overall increase in life satisfaction. However, be careful when taking risks because if it impacts basic needs of food, shelter, and safety then it could increase the chances of losing self-respect and even depression.

Dealing with the Aftermath

There are many ways to productively and positively handle the loss of a job. I’ve actually posted a number of blogs through my career services office that discusses coping with job loss. These contain some good tips about how to mentally prepare for the road ahead, not allow your current situation to have a negative impact on finding a new job, and even some additional job seeking strategies.

It’s time to be more conscious of yourself which means taking time out to daily reflect on the positives in your life, recreate with friends, keep a journal, or whatever method works for you. Times of turmoil call for a deeper intuition of self and a recognition of needs.

Even as counselors we are reminded that the number one person to care for is you, because if you’re not healthy in mind, body, and spirit then it reduces our effectiveness to help others. So take time to renew and balance your life because that is the core to an effective personal and work life!


Karen is a Career Counselor and Internship Coordinator at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW). At IPFW she assists students in finding internships, coordinates and assists with campus-wide events, teaches a Career Planning course, and meets with students individually to assist them with all aspects of career development. Connect with Karen via LinkedIn or Twitter.

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