Laid-Off Workers Cause Little Pessimism

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The presence of unemployed workers should make people who currently have jobs nervous. As the economy has rebounded, the number of people who have been out of work for more than a half a year has barely dropped. This puts most of this desperate group in extreme economic trouble as they run out of unemployment benefits, as well as the ability to support themselves and to stay in their homes.

A new poll from Gallup shows that Americans are not terribly worried by the number of unemployed persons — that is, as long as they have their own jobs and are not concerned about being fired. Probably those who remained employed through the recession think that, in a recovery, their jobs are especially safe. However, as they look at their present circumstances, they have little survivor’s guilt.

Gallup reports:

Two-thirds of Americans know someone who has been laid off or lost their job in the last six months — the highest in Gallup history. However, most U.S. workers think they themselves are unlikely to lose their own jobs.

The data indicates a kind of inhumanity among those people who still have work. At the very least, it is a kind of disregard for those who continue to struggle in their search for employment.

Gallup’s explanation for the lack of connection between people who have work and their view of those who do not is that all employment is local. Most people who have kept jobs do not worry about the presence of unemployment on a national scale. Gallup speculates that:

Americans tend to be more positive about things that are local and affect them directly than they are about things “out there” in the general society.

That is not a good enough explanation. People who know someone out of work probably know them because they are a neighbor, relative or former coworker. No one is unemployed “nationally.” They are part of a circle that employed people know personally.

As the recession has receded, many Americans seem to have lost some of their concern about the decline in the value of their homes. They accept the fact that they have no home equity, and may have underwater mortgages, as a long-term fact of life. They may look at those around them who do not have work in a similar way. These people are permanent collateral damage from the worst recession in memory.

Douglas A. McIntyre