Most people are in a position to survive for a while without an income. However with the average time of unemployment being so long, people can find themselves in a really challenging position. While there are ways to cut one’s expenses, certain bills such as school loans, mortgage and car payments are difficult to change after the fact. For example, a person may be able to cut out cable television and eating out from their budget, but they can’t go back and not go to college or not buy their house. (True, a person may be able to reduce loan payments or sell the house, but those things aren’t likely to put them in a better financial position overall.) As their resources run out, a person can find themselves with expensive late fees, bad credit problems, and even struggle to provide for basic necessities. All these things have the potential to not only be problems presently, but to affect their future as well.
Another problem I see is that unemployment like this seems to create inequality. Consider this scenario: two women work in the same position for the same company, and each make 50,000 per year. The company loses business and decides that they need to cut their expenses in half in the area these women work in. They still have more work than one can handle alone, however instead of asking both women to take a 50% pay cut—a measure both would be unhappy about and potentially feel was disrespectful—my impression is that the majority of companies would lay off one while keeping the other at her former wage level. In this economy, it takes the woman who was laid off a year to get another job, and that one only pay 20,000. After three years she is earning 25,000, and after six years she earns 30,000. It is ten years before she is able to find another position which pays 50,000. In those ten years, she made $225,000, while the woman who was not laid off made 500,000—over twice as much.
This is a significant amount of difference for two people who are equally qualified and whom both worked just as much and as hard as the other (as anyone who has done it knows, searching for a job can be just as much work as working a job is). True, life isn’t fair, however this goes against the traditional American idea that if you work hard you’ll get ahead. Now days more than ever, hard work may not always pay off.
My hypothetical scenario only looked at the difference in wages. However what if the laid off worker ran into financial difficulty and lost their car or their home or their phone? These would all make acquiring new work that much more difficult, not to mention that life would be much harder for the person. And I’d argue that this isn’t far-fetched, but that people are actually in these types of situations presently. Additionally, many jobs require people to have “reliable transportation”, their own car, certain clothes, phones, tools, etc. Or an available job may be in another geographical area which would requiring moving. Again, if you are out of work, it might be difficult if not impossible for you to acquire necessities to work. Ironically, money is often required in order to be able to make money. This puts those who already have in front of those who don’t have, thus widening the inequality.
So what you have presently in our economy are some people you are doing fine and some who are not. Again, of two equal people, one can afford to go to the movies, out to eat, take trips, have a fancy phone, etc., while the other struggles to have food to eat. This is partial a problem of our society being so individualistic. What we decided to do in these downturns is we cut people out so that the rest can stay comfortable. We could spread things out so that everyone has to tighten down some, but not too much. But we choose to have a few people bear the whole load—and more often than not, it’s people who have had no fault in the situation. In other cultures which are more community based, some of these problems of inequality are mitigated. While not everyone has a job which brings in an income, everyone does some work which helps the group and everyone has a place to stay and food to eat. What I’m arguing is this: there are people who are hurting by no fault of their own. There is enough out there, we just need to share what we have. Those without jobs can’t just sit around and wait for the economy to turn around, they have to survive in the mean time. Let’s help each other out.