By Peggy Truitt
“I had no idea others felt this way,” my client said. “I thought something was wrong with me.”
In an era of dueling, politicized employment rate numbers, it can be difficult to know what the truth is. But for those who are out of work — who want to be employed — truth may arrive each day in the sense of a bill that is delayed, a feeling of lacking a place to belong or a missing part of identity.
These feelings of displacement and uncertainty are something that many JEVS Career Strategies clients experience and feel, particularly those who have been out of work for a long period of time. It is not a unique phenomenon. Philadelphia’s unemployment rate, as of March 2017, continues to hover around 6 percent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, prior to the Great Recession, just 18 percent of those who were considered unemployed were “long-term unemployed” (six months or more); today, that number is 28 percent.
The potential root causes of long-term unemployment are many. Age discrimination continues to be an issue, particularly for those 55 and older; there has been a contraction in the number of stable, long-term jobs; and a marketplace shift in work options has led to more people cobbling together contract work in a gig economy, frequently with no benefits or health insurance.
But as The Psychology of Working notes, work is a “central aspect of life” and is “central to mental health.” And we know that good mental health is critical to maintaining motivation, focus, resilience and a positive attitude during a job search.
We see this every day. As career advisers and counselors, we know that long-term unemployment is a designation that cuts across all races, genders, employment sectors and educational levels — bringing with it a host of psychological stresses. Some clients are angry, upset, scared and worried about the future. Frequently, someone who is long-term unemployed may withdraw herself from friendships or family, as well as from the networking relationships with former colleagues or business contacts that are so vital to a successful job search.
The experience of repeated rejection makes the long-term unemployment experience different from those who are quickly out and back in the job market, or the experience of returning to the workforce after caring for a child. It affects self-esteem and dignity — and makes the process of networking (key to securing employment) more emotionally fraught. Frequently, group support is considered helpful.
Recognizing this problem, JEVS Career Strategies will offer a four-week Job Search Support Series for our community’s long-term unemployed citizens.
Made possible through a grant from The Justin P. Allman President’s Fund of The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the series begins on June 8 and aims to help participants build confidence, practice self-care and feel the dignity inherent in working an individual path back to a successful job search.
For more than 75 years, we’ve assisted workers in the Delaware Valley, providing the tools and processes — as well as job placement services — to help people find their next great career. Focusing on the barriers facing those who have endured the stigma of long-term unemployment during this “economic recovery” is both crucial to the individual and vital to our regional economic picture.
For more information on the Job Search Support Series, visit jevshumanservices.org/Career-Support-Series or call Penni Gould at JEVS Career Strategies at 215-832-0879.
Peggy Truitt is the director of JEVS Career Strategies.