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recruitingSHEro Unmasked: Mental Health & The Labor Market

Updated: Jul 15

I've been pretty quiet lately on social media. There has not been a major post on LinkedIn from me or a new blog post at all for several weeks now. I've been studying the labor market, trying to survive, and massively depressed. Depression doesn't always look like depression. When Rachel Kitty Cupples is quiet, something is going on. IYKYK.

Instead of sharing my story of the past few weeks in detail, I want to share what I have been thinking about, reading about and hearing from other job seekers in regards to today's U.S. labor market and its negative impact on mental health for job seekers. Its my guess that hearing about my financial crisis will do less good for others vs. sharing about a problem the U.S. needs to address. Am I an expert? No. Although, I have been a job seeker for close to four months now - so humor me as I talk about some important shit -and mental health. The job seeker stories I share in this post are from real people I've spoken with (they gave permission to share with you here).

Unemployment continues to be one of the major economic issues facing households across this nation as they recover from tough years impacted by a crumbling stock market and joblessness - and don't forget the first global pandemic in our lifetime. But this crushing blow to their financial well-being is only one consequence of joblessness.

Mental health is an issue impacting the United Staes and for those that are unemployed, it can come with a range of mental stresses like depression, anxiety and several different psychological disorders. These problems are not only personal but also public health issues and require multidimensional solutions. It seems to me that the U.S. government does not see it this way truly. I am not a mental health expert or in any field of medicine or mental health support. I can tell you that I am someone who is struggling not unlike the millions of other in the nation due to unemployment or underemployment.

In 2024, unemployment rates in the United States remained unpredictable as a result of economic trends and technological advancements which relate to changing and exagerated social developments if you ask me. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Jobless rate claims to be at 4.9 percent in the state of Washington (where I reside) for May 2024. You can see where your state lands here. Several factors are contributing to this increase, including continued results of the COVID-19 pandemic, the technological advancements I mentioned earlier and subsequent disruptions in global supply chains along with continuous shifting workplace norms. As a job seeker in the thick of job search, I can tell you that today, I'd venture to guess those numbers have risen significantly or will this second half of 2024. These numbers do not consider or include under employment, something most unemployed folks will experience as the result of the economy and employers paying less than they have in the previous years for a myriad of reasons that I wont get into today (it's just too much sometimes to think about the negative).

In the details of these stats are intersting little slivers of data and trends. One example that isn't new-news includes the rise of the gig economy, where people are choosing to do freelance work or be contract employees rather than being a traditional 9-5 employee. Not everyone chooses this. Often times, as I've personally experiened as an unemployed recruiter in 2024, it's the only option. With unemployment to the rise of this shift, underemployment is on a different trajectory in that more and more workers are finding themselves employed but not in jobs that fully leverage their skills or provide them with any financial security or at a minimum a livable wage. They take a job to try to get some bread and milk on the table and hope their housing costs will work out and they wont become homeless.

The nation is also saddled with unemployment rates rising (I believe the stats and data have yet to be reported - but a huge shift took place in late May/early June 2024 for the worse based on my observations - I felt it and watched it happen in my own job search and in hearing the experiences of other job seekers throughout May and June) a result of several factors, driven largely by continued macroeconomic instability and uncertainty about inflation rates affecting consumer spending and business investments etc. In the face of such market volatility and an election year (the recent preseidential debate did not help either side in this either!), organizations are playing it "safe" by limiting their workforce and betting on AI and technology to replace what once were human functions. It will be interesting to see what kind of damage this "safe" playing will have on the economy, the organizations, and people as a whole in the United States. Interesting might be the wrong word. Frightening comes to mind. I hope I am wrong.

In the case of technological advances, it wears a double hat as well. While they drive innovation and efficiency, at the same time new technology makes certain jobs irrelevant or in many cases the perception that certain jobs and skillsets are now irrelevant. It also is taking time for the tech industry and the entire world of work to balance and adjust to what human components will still be needed to be successful. Right now, I dare to say tech has lost its way a bit and needs to be realigned with the human components to keep it successful. As an example, the rise of artificial intelligence means many human-operated call centers are being phased-out or replaced. As such, people who have been unable to adapt to the digital-first economy are often left behind. Even consumers are being taxed by the stress of automated customer support that often does nothing more than frustrate users until they give up and move on.

A crucial catalyst for this is the evolving demographic landscape. An aging population has created a critical mass of retirees - and an increasingly urgent demand for early career skilled employees to take the reins. But the transition from education to employment is not as smooth given that it can take years for requirements in the labor market have significantly changed.

Unemployment rates vary greatly by region in the United States. True to type, these are just the pretty faces to most comic characters who live in an alternate reality. In contrast, rural areas and regions with large dependence on the traditional manufacturing or agriculture typically have higher levels of unemployment as these industries either contract rapidly or fail to adapt at all.

Job destruction in manufacturing is ruining the labor market in the Midwest according to several job seekers I've spoken to in the area. The migration of manufacturing jobs abroad, combined with the automation of factory floors has strangled these economies into what looks like from my view, a permanent downturn. Compared to the Rust Belt in the Northeast and Midwest, Sun Belt states such as Texas or Florida enjoy less of a national average unemployment rate because their economies are more diversified and construction is still one of our fastest-growing sectors. For job seekers who are able to relocate or are mobile this could be something of significance in their searches and future plans. But we must remember, if everyone rushes to these states, we will soon see them impacted like Washington D.C., California and Washington state ,as an example, are.

To sum up this rant, American unemployment in 2024 is a chaotic mix of economic fears, technological displacements and demographic shifts. Together these make up what happens in the market for labor, affecting overall well-being and calling for interventions to minimize the massive negative impact the national labor market has on mental health today. But what we have here is not just an economic crisis in the conventional sense of unemployment, this is a deep-seated psychological and social meltdown that has punched millions across America in right in the face.

The social burden of the psychological consequences of not having employment is sapping and broad-based. The identity hit when you lose a job, because the truth is that most people associate their self-worth and social status with what they do for work, is huge. This identity crisis can lead to feelings of being not enough, shame, fear, helplessness and more. The daily routine and structure provided by working lends a reason for living, an ordinary routine that people do every day during the week without ever giving it much thought. Without work, social ties are weakened. The nature of the relationship between business and workers means that workplaces are not just places to work but areas where people strike relationships and rely on contacts. Once unemployed, the loneliness and isolation of joblessness itself may also worsen aggravating depression.

Chronic anxiety can also be exacerbated by financial instability, and the worry of being unable to afford to live without consistent livable income. The anxiety about paying bills, housing and health care is constant and a never ending weight on job seeker's souls that keeps many awake at night so wrought with worry.

The stagnant lives of the jobless also breeds depression. Job search and interviewing over and over and still not getting hired can really start to drive down hope and confidence. The social pressures and the stigma are such that people keep it all bottled up, which can result in a depressive episode that last far longer than their community around them can see. It takes such an emotional toll that for some people their physical health is impacted as well.

Consider Heath, a 45-year-old father of two who lost his tech job in January after the company he worked for downsized. Over the last half year, he has has turned up to countless job interviews for roles he is well qualified and experienced in - but with no luck or job offers. His inability to support his family and lack of money puts him in a state of depression because as he offers for them, it gets worse until ultimately being hospitalized on three occasions due extreme levels anxiety and physical impacts of depression.

Take a mother and single parent like Tabitha, who was fired from her retail job because her child was sick and she had zero daycare for her chronically sick child. She is now suffering from terrible mental health, with all savings exhausted and her bills racking up. Her days, she said, were marked by sets of panic attacks, sleepless nights - and an incurable sense of doom while wondering how she will feed and care for her children. Her experience serves as a sobering reminder that unemployment is not only figures on paper, but people out there need mental health assistance as a bare minimum.

These personal stories highlight the deep mental health ramifications of unemployment, proving that a national plan through an increased aid package might just be what this country needs to get its citizens back on their feet and improve those grim psychological statistics. Casting the net wider, we need to move on and accept that all our prosperity at a mental level, is dependent on economic stability too - inclusive response strategies-react locally supportively. I do not have all the answers or expertise needed to solve our current problem with the labor market but I can tell you this - with great advancements in technology and society comes even greater responsibilities. It's beginning to feel like no one of importance who can make an impact is considering the human element of the impact of the advancements.

On a community level, local support networks can be life-savers-and the links between unemployment and mental health are well worth being bridged. They are generally composed of a mix of local government agencies, non-profits, religious institutions and volunteer groups that operate together to house the unemployed. Sadly, the information isn't widely spread and people do not know about programs. I am personally going to work on putting together information for my area. It would be wonderful if we could all do this and combine the information for everyone to access. I will be adding a tab to my website to add information for job seekers. Please send in any information you have for your geographical area.

What I do know is that throughout the U.S. neighborhood libraries and community centers have transformed into job search help, grant writing support, or mental health assistance hubs. A lot of them are also running free workshops on how to improve your resume, job interviews and stress as well as numerous other things like that! Peer support groups have gained attention as stand-out spaces to intermingle experiences, and help membersteach other how to cope with the demands of losing work.

Another pillar of community support comes from faith-based organizations. A lot of churches also offer financial help or counseling as well as job placement programs. In many cases, these institutions function as trusted channels of aid, especially in underprivileged communities where ordinary mental health services may not be available. For those not affiliated, it can be a support they do not seek to receive or know of at all. Often times coming with additional pressures and obligations or implied obligations.

Again, I am not a mental health specialist, an economist or an expert on the economy and it's impacts on mental health. I only know what I've experienced personally, the first hand accounts from others, and what I read and witness . My personal experience had me on my knees and also crying in public more than once earlier this week. I am not sure if anyone will admit something like that or if it is helpful to, but it's not far off from most job seeker's experiences. Especially those who have been unemployed for a long period of time. That said, I've not been unemployed for 6-12 months at this point. It's only been close to four months. I have no idea what comes next for me personally. I am only about three months away from losing everything completely. That said, I do believe it is important to be honest about our experiences because it can - even the hard and ugly parts - be comforting in a way to others, to know they are not alone.

All of this takes a psychological toll and is demonstrated in elevated rates of depression, anxiety, along with other emotional wellness disorders from the unemployed (Wanburg et al.,1991). We can see through numerous case studies and the personal stories we hear from job seekers that employment loss causes more than just a financial instability, it impacts worth, relationships between individuals and overall quality of life. These statistics clearly illustrate the human dimension, and consequently, underscore the extreme necessity for efficient support structures.

I'd love to hear more unemployment stories from my readers. Where are you finding support? How would you rate your mental health today? Whether it is day 3 of your unemployment/job search journey or day 372, I want to hear from you.

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06 de jul.

Sending you strength <3 I wish I had more people around me who can relate to the heavy emotional, mental, and identity-based toll that being under/unemployed has meant.

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