- Feb 11, 2010
By Debbie Siegelbaum
BBC News, Washington
Out-of-work Americans tend to blame themselves for their predicament
Decades ago, the American dream inspired employees, offering the promise of the good life. But now, with jobs disappearing, that dream has become a nightmare for the unemployed who see their joblessness as a personal - and shameful - failure.
Victor Tan Chen studies some of the unluckiest people in the US.
The sociology fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, researches car workers in cities like Detroit, hard-hit by the economic downturn and by long-term trends in the US industrial base.
"But they used to be the luckiest men in America," Chen says.
Decades ago, car workers lived the quintessential American Dream: they pursued stable, well-paying, union-backed jobs, often straight out of high school. They were able to build a middle-class life and provide the promise of something better to their children.
A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology last year found that the higher people perceived their social class to be, the more likely they were to believe that success comes to those who most deserve it.
Perhaps more tellingly, those of lower status were viewed as unworthy.
I've seen this all the time in recent years, most often with people over 50. Older job seekers are sometimes subject to blatant age discrimination, yet, blame themselves for the fact the prejudiced employers would rather hire someone half their age with no experience. Is this truly distinctly American, as the article states?"Employers... are giving up on the good people
When US workers fail to recognise structural problems within the current labour market or that the "deck is stacked in certain ways", she says, they experience depression and a loss of motivation, ultimately lengthening the period of unemployment.
It can also lead employers to stigmatise the unemployed.
Rand Ghayad has seen this phenomenon thousands of times.
The visiting scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston sent out nearly 5,000 resumes to US companies to determine to what extent the duration of unemployment factored in to whether a candidate was considered for a job.
The call-back rate for any candidate with a long-term unemployment spell - typically considered six months or longer - was a paltry 5-6%.
"Employers would rather hire a short-term [unemployed] applicant with no experience than bring in someone for an interview that's long-term unemployed with the exact experience they're looking for," he says. "They're giving up on the good people."
Ghayad notes employers assume if someone is out of work, it must have something to do with the candidate.
Job seekers start to believe it, too, a distinctly American phenomenon.