Purdue News

October 5, 2004

Purdue sociologists report unemployment is public-health problem

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Unemployment affects public health, and unless there are policy changes, individuals, families and communities will suffer, according to two Purdue University professors.

Their report is one of 11 chapters in a publication, "Solutions: Agenda for Social Justice 2004," published by the interdisciplinary group, the Society for the Study of Social Problems. The booklet was designed to inform elected officials and the public about some the nation's most pressing social problems.

Authors Carolyn C. Perrucci and Robert Perrucci, professors in sociology and anthropology, point out serious problems in both reporting and responding to unemployment. Current policy assumes that unemployment is a normal cost of a growing economy operating in a free market, Robert Perrucci said.

"There is little evidence that existing programs help most of the unemployed with their financial difficulties," he said. "The challenge is how to get corporations to accept some of the costs of unemployment that now jeopardize workers and their communities."

The Peruccis recommend four general policy initiatives that would help deal with the problems and shape the future.

The first problem the Perruccis point to is that the official unemployment rate underestimates the size of the problem. The monthly official unemployment rate excludes part-time workers who seek full-time jobs and discouraged workers who have given up looking for work, they say in their report.

The official rate also fails to acknowledge that the unemployment rate for different groups of Americans, such as women and minorities, may be double or triple the official rate, Carolyn Perrucci said.

In addition, governmental responses to unemployment fail to consider negative health effects on workers, their families and their communities.

"Displaced workers and their families experience income loss and increased stress, leading to negative health symptoms," Carolyn Perrucci said. "Communities have trouble providing needed services for the unemployed and for encouraging community development."

Unemployed couples have significantly lower adjustment to marriage, poorer communication and lower satisfaction and harmony in family relations, said Robert Perrucci. Children whose fathers are unemployed are more likely to experience infectious disease than children whose parents are continuously employed. Perucci said the children's illnesses also are more likely to last longer.

Under current policy, there is also a decline in the availability of community resources to assist displaced workers, Carolyn Perrucci said. Studies of current policy attempts to help those whose jobs have been moved overseas indicate that the policies serve relatively few displaced workers, she said.

The Peruccis recommend implementation of four general policy initiatives:

- Congress should enact legislation to slow down the flight of jobs and capital by making relocation less attractive to corporate decision makers. Legislation also should require corporations that close or reduce domestic operations to pay for costs of retraining and educating displaced workers. Corporations should also be required to pay back tax abatements and other financial incentives provided by the community.

- The amount and the duration of unemployment benefits due to unemployed workers should be increased. The length of the benefit period might be tied to retraining in order to prevent abuse of the system.

- Unemployed workers and their families should receive social services that would help them cope with job loss and help them find advice, training and referrals to help the entire family.

- The federal government should start a job program that hires the unemployed into meaningful and valued jobs in communities through state and local government.

The report can be viewed and downloaded in its entirety.

Writer: Maggie Morris, (765) 494-2432, news.writer@purdue.edu

Sources: Carolyn C. Perrucci, (765) 494-4666, perruccic@soc.purdue.edu

Robert Perrucci, (765) 494-4714, perruccir@soc.purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu


Related Web sites:
Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Society for the Study of Social Problems


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