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Social factors in unemployment Social factors in unemployment
by Joseph Gatt
2019-09-30 08:40:04
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Let's say you live in a city where your four kids go to school and your wife is employed. You just lost your job, and finding one in the city will be complicated. To top that off, let's say that you're a telecommunications engineer, and the only company in your city that employs telecommunications engineers is America Telecom, and that America Telecom is downsizing. You could perhaps get a job with Atlantic Telecom or Pacific Telecom, but for that your wife would have to quit her job and your kids would have to change schools and your entire family would wrestle in a completely different social setting. To make matters worse, your wife is an up and coming businesswoman who loves her job within her business and is not sure other businesses would grant her the trust and freedom that her current job grants her.

So in this short article, rather than discuss raw economic theory which would be boring, I will lay out several cases studies like the one above. Let me be a little “humble” by saying this article is somewhat revolutionary in the economic literature. You see up until now, economic theory often looked at unemployment from an individual perspective, rather than from a social perspective. Unemployment is a lot more complicated than one man or woman fails to get one job, and often involves variables including family, skills, diplomas, geographic location, linguistic ability, social reputation, cultural traits, financial background and...ego factors along with many, many other variables that I will discuss here. In the conclusion, I'll give a name for unemployment factors after each case study. Case studies are fictitious, loosely based on real cases. 

unempl01_400Cases 1A and 1B: Teddy is from Ghana and got a scholarship to go to college in the US to study biology. Teddy gets his BA in biology, but fails to make the cut for scholarships to go to med school in the US, Canada or the UK. Teddy goes back the Ghana and has something of a “cultural hangover” (a common symptom when you leave a country and move to another and still act like you're in the former country) and starts looking for jobs that provide health insurance, pension plans, incremental wages and a job description in Ghana. Teddy uses the internet to look for a job in Ghana, when most people network their way to a job. And there are no jobs that provide the kind of compensation or task structure that Teddy would look for. Teddy spends two years looking for a job, before he finally opts to work at an American postal service. Nothing to do with his background, but still a remnant of his demands for an American work environment. Teddy wants to be treated like an American-educated worker from Ghana, but his American bosses deride him as being from Ghana and little else. Teddy quits his job and decides to sell phones on the black market, and is considered officially “unemployed.”

James is from a small town in Kentucky and studies creative writing at a university in New York City. During his college years, rather than hang out with professional creative writers, he hangs out with wannabe creative writers who keep complaining about how “hard it is to make money from creative writing” rather than discuss where the opportunities are and how to seize them. Teddy graduates but the only job listings he finds for creative writing are for ghost writing and pay a lot less than minimum wage. So James moves back with his parents in small town Kentucky where he refuses a job with the only paper in town for “creative differences.” James posts 40 times a day on Facebook, mostly posts criticizing the lack of opportunities in art. James gets several offers such as teaching Sunday school, curating the Church newsletter, or working as a cashier at a local store, but refuses all of them. James wants to get a job where he can write, produce, direct and star in the next Hollywood production, and that's the only job James will take.

Cases 1A and 1B are what I would call “unemployment for lack of realism about the job market.”

Case 2: Oscar and Pierre meet at the political science department at an American university. Oscar is from Brazil and wants to learn as much as he can about economic development while Pierre is from France and dreams of bringing fresh blood into French politics. Oscar and Pierre graduate. Oscar goes back to Brazil only to find that politicians are completely off-limits. Unlike the US with all the town halls and politicians you meet everywhere, in Brazil, if you look for a politician, you come out empty handed. To start any career in politics, you would need some kind of conversation with some politician. Pierre goes back to France only to find that his American optimism doesn't fit into the dark, gloomy, almost horror movie-like atmosphere in French politics. Pierre meets French politicians and provides them with American-style concrete solutions, only to have his solutions shouted down and being reminded that Pierre is “not a politician.” Both Oscar and Pierre look for jobs in politics, anywhere from the local city hall to national politics, and can't even find a way to work as petty clerks. Truth is, they can't even find jobs as volunteers in election campaigns.

Case 2 is what I would call “unemployment for cultural mismatch on the social setting.” or “unemployment for reason of opacity in the job market's social structure.”

Case 3: John and Jane meet in college. John is a computer engineering major and Jane is an English literature major. John and Jane get passing grades, spend a lot of time partying in college, and never really think about the future. When graduation comes, John and Jane naively plan their future. Jane suggests that she teach English in China, Japan or Korea where there must be “plenty of jobs for computer engineers” when there are no jobs for computer engineers. John suggests Jane explore normal job options in the area. John and Jane have no formal work experience and no skills out of the ordinary, they apply to jobs randomly, and get few job interviews, mostly for very low-paying jobs. John and Jane spend two years applying for jobs hoping the find one with decent pay, but rarely come close.

Case 3 is what I would call “unemployment for lack of knowledge and understanding of the job market.” A lot of times, job applicants have no idea what the job market is made up of.

Case 4: Ahmed, Jacques, Rajiv, Wang Jue, Kim Min Soo, Saito Yuki and many others come from cultures where professionals “don't talk to students” because “they are students.” They come from cultures where students are considered “ignorant” and where most professionals treat students with great contempt. This means they have no professional friends and have no idea what goes on inside an office. They apply for jobs knowing nothing about the professional world, and their applications fail to stand out.

Case 4 is what I would call “unemployment for lack of interaction with the professional world.”

Case 5: When Z. was 5 years old, his mother fell of a shelf and became permanently disabled. Z.'s father died when he was 3 and his aunt looked after him, until he was old enough to look after his mother at which point Z.'s aunt decided to get married. Z. needs a job to feed his household adequately, and to find money to get married so his wife can take care of his disabled mother while he brings home the turkey. Unfortunately there are no centers where Z. can leave his mother, and Z. can only work from home while caring for his mother. Z. Considers opening a small shop where he can care for his mother while running the shop, but there are no business spaces near his home. 

Case 5 is what I would call “unemployment for family obligations.”

Case 6: R. works as a government teacher in Wakanda. In Wakanda, government teachers are required to change schools every three years. Unfortunately, government teachers in Wakanda cannot change schools in the middle of their three year mandate, and must resign if they don't like the school or city. R. gets sent to a school where a lot of students are drug addicts and where everyone is being a bully with him, his life turns into a nightmare. R. begs to go back to his old school or to get posted to a decent school, his bid is rejected, and he resigns. Now R.'s only choice is to work for a private school, but R. fails to get a job at a private school because of his status as a public school defector.

S. Works as a public servant in Wakanda and has to change cities every 4 years. S. gets a job in a new city but is getting violently harassed by her boss. S. asks to work for another department, but her request is rejected. S. Resigns, and fails to get a job because of her status as a public service defector.

Case 6 is what I would call “unemployment due to resignations from career tracks that lead to pariah status within the country.” This may not be the case in countries like Canada or the US, but in many, many countries resigning from public service, or resigning from a stable job leads to pariah status within the job market. And workplace abuse is not a valid excuse to rid the pariah status. This can also be said about people who hold so many jobs they are no longer considered employable.

Final case study

 Y. is Black is low-skilled. V. is a woman and low-skilled. M. is gay and low-skilled. H. is from a minority ethnic group and low-skilled.

This I would call “unemployment due to belonging to a vulnerable minority or social background.” That is low-skilled majority workers tend to have an easier time getting a job than low-skilled minority people. In most cases high-skilled minorities find jobs a lot more easily than low-skilled majority workers, although high-skilled majority workers tend to get jobs more easily than high-skilled minority workers.

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