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No Working No Die
April 27, 2009 11:13 AM   Subscribe

Unemployment: good for the heart and the soul. "In studies over the past 10 years, Ruhm has consistently found death rates decline during recessions and rise when the economy expands. If unemployment rises 1 percent, he estimates the death rate will fall by about half a percent."
posted by dersins (38 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was unemployed at various times from spring 2004 to spring 2005 (I had just returned to Canada from living overseas and was struggling to get set up).

Those experiences of unemployment nearly killed me.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:26 AM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm going to guess it's a matter of short-term effects vs. long-term effects. Recessions are long enough to reduce death rates from, say, car accidents or workaholism-related heart attacks, but not long enough to show the adverse effects of poor diet, depression, etc.
posted by Krrrlson at 11:30 AM on April 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


Come to think of it, I have never died while unemployed. They could be on to something.
posted by Foosnark at 11:34 AM on April 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


I'm only starting to read the article, but I simply must compliment your post title, dersins. Good work!
posted by EatTheWeak at 11:35 AM on April 27, 2009


I was going to assume suicides might drop since because everybody is a failure there is less tortuous feelings of comparative inadequacy but apparently suicides increase so that theory is nulled.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 11:38 AM on April 27, 2009


It's probably because the unemployed don't commute and the roads are the most dangerous thing you face on a daily basis. Also, having been unemployed, this would have been pretty cold comfort at the time. Unemployment sucks, although I did get to go pick the kids of from school most days. (and I also got to explain to other parents that I got fired! whee!)
posted by GuyZero at 11:40 AM on April 27, 2009


Keep in mind that a lot of this research was done in Europe, where unemployed people are actually, you know, taken care of.
posted by DU at 11:42 AM on April 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


Also, less people die in Porsche crashes during economic depressions. So if we fire EVERYONE, Porsches will become the safest cars in the world!
posted by blue_beetle at 11:45 AM on April 27, 2009


Unemployment sucks

I must respectfully disagree. Unemployment was the best job I ever had.
posted by dersins at 11:46 AM on April 27, 2009 [8 favorites]


Great so on top of everything else the recession contributes to global over-population, too!
posted by oddman at 11:47 AM on April 27, 2009


My current bout of unemployment has been pretty stressful not just for me, but for my wife, too. But on the upside, I'm well-rested and got to write a feature screenplay!

Now, does anybody want to read it?

Anyone?

Hello?
posted by vibrotronica at 11:49 AM on April 27, 2009


It's probably because the unemployed don't commute and the roads are the most dangerous thing you face on a daily basis.

Well, according to this abstract, heart attack rates correlate with a rise in employment, so there's that, too.

a lot of this research was done in Europe

From the abstract to the paper linked above: " The sample includes residents of the 20 largest states over the 1979 to 1998 period." So, not Europe.
posted by dersins at 11:52 AM on April 27, 2009


Keep in mind that a lot of this research was done in Europe, where unemployed people are actually, you know, taken care of.

Recently, I've been wanting to figure out how the reaction to this economic shit storm by the general population in America compares to that of countries with safety nets. Does America, with it's prevailing 'keep your fuckin' hands out of my wallet/every man for himself attitude', cause people to engage in behaviour which more socialist countries do not? I'd have to assume crime rates (white collar, as well as violent) would rise sharply (and disproportionately) in the States during rough economic times.
posted by gman at 11:53 AM on April 27, 2009


Let's face it. For the vast majority of us, having a job sucks. But being unemployed sucks, too (unless of course you're rich, in which case you're not unemployed, you're rich).

The only tolerable middle ground I've found is working part-time.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:55 AM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think it would be important to isolate and resolve the various causes of death. For example, it seems axiomatic that fatal industrial accidents increase as more people are working (though there is not likely a significant increase in the rate of industrial accidents).

However, the article refers to things like increased obesity and self-isolation that may occur in boom times. These may be significant contributors to mortality, but death itself doesn't occur immediately upon becoming obese or isolated. I imagine the mortality of long term health issues, like smoking, would be very hard to correlate with contemporary economic events.
posted by Xoebe at 11:57 AM on April 27, 2009


If you can't afford to leave your house, fill your car with gas, or buy alcohol & tobacco, your life expectancy goes up. Makes sense.
posted by gman at 12:00 PM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


If unemployment rises 1 percent, he estimates the death rate will fall by about half a percent.

So if everyone had no job, about half of us would be immortal?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:00 PM on April 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Unemployment was the best job I ever had.

Back when I was young and single and jobs were plentiful, I recall an enjoyable period of summer unemployment. More recently with two kids, a mortgage and a tight market for the kind of jobs I wanted, not so much.

Well and there was that time I got packaged out and took a two week beach holiday with the family. That wasn't so bad.
posted by GuyZero at 12:03 PM on April 27, 2009


I was unemployed for a 7-month stretch once, and it wasn't that bad–got a lot of exercise and I got to spend time w. my wife & newborn son. Thank goodness for unemployment insurance.
posted by Mister_A at 12:03 PM on April 27, 2009


If unemployment rises 1 percent, he estimates the death rate will fall by about half a percent.

So if everyone had no job, about half of us would be immortal?


Good one! But, that's a relative 0.5% of the mortality rate, so, no, the rate never goes to zero. Wish it would, though.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:21 PM on April 27, 2009


I've been unemployed for 18 months out of the past two years and am starting a new job on Monday, I accept the increased health risks with open arms, thanks.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 12:54 PM on April 27, 2009


Those experiences of unemployment nearly killed me.

That which does not kill you makes you stronger.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:20 PM on April 27, 2009


But, that's a relative 0.5% of the mortality rate, so, no, the rate never goes to zero. Wish it would, though.

I think you'll find that, given enough time, the rate will inevitably hit a 100% immortality rate.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:26 PM on April 27, 2009


Clearly work can have negative stress-related effects to our health. Commuting, not enough sleep, grabbing a bite of fast food, not having the time to unwind and really enjoy the slack.

However, pure unemployment can end with homelessness, so there's that.

It seems to me that the solution is everyone working less. If industrial efficiencies mean that the same production can be attained by half the man-hours, and demand doesn't go up, how do we deal with that? Well, half the workers will become unemployed, and the other half will continue to work their 10 hour days.

What would make more sense, from a quality-of-life standpoint, would be for all the workers to keep their jobs, and everyone works 5 hour days. More time with the kids and so forth.

If everyone worked less, money would deflate, because there would be less income for everyone, and costs for necessary goods would also deflate to match demand. The only reason why housing increased after WWII so much in the U.S. was because when women went to work, the normal income for a household was doubled, which meant there was twice as much to spend on a house, and so the cost of houses increased.

If we just reversed that trend, where instead of everyone working 50 hour weeks, everyone worked 25 hour weeks, the unemployment problem would disappear. Just stop producing so much unnecessary status-based junk, and enjoy more time with your kids.

Your heart will thank you.
posted by MythMaker at 2:30 PM on April 27, 2009 [8 favorites]


It's true. There is no opposing term to: "worked himself to death". That's been the biggest myth perpetrated on the American public by corporate fascists - that if you don't work you'll somehow die. I'd posit around 60% of the work that gets done in this country is absolutely unnecessary. We should all just revolt, take it easy and get by with less.
posted by any major dude at 2:35 PM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I prefer to think of it as being FUNemployed
posted by fuq at 2:44 PM on April 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


Those experiences of unemployment nearly killed me.

That which does not kill you makes you stronger.


Of all the bourgeois platitudes that need to be put in the ground, this is the greatest.

Over a short time period, sure, it'll make you stronger. If you have reason to believe that ultimately you won't end up living out your days on a piece of wet cardboard, and maybe have a spot of cash to spend on some Buddhist tracts at the used bookstore, then hey, bring on the noble suffering. But sustained over months or years, it'll grind down your immune system and erode your mental health.

There are a lot of people going hungry, wallowing in isolation, or staggering under the weight of addiction who are not becoming stronger for it. And many of them will stop really living long before they actually die.

Those people were around long before the latest economic "crisis," and will be around long after. If we're going to talk about economic periods of acute unemployment, we have to talk about the political fact of chronic underemployment as well - and why we seem to believe people are only worth something if they're "employed."
posted by regicide is good for you at 3:27 PM on April 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


Let's face it. For the vast majority of us, having a job sucks.

I love what I do. The great thing is, if I don't like my current employer I can just pack up my Outlooks contact files and do what I do somewhere else.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:37 PM on April 27, 2009


There are other things that correlate to this. The suicide rate goes down when there is a war on and up during times of peace. Things we would ordinarily regard as stressful can also give us a sense of purpose and focus which offset the actual stress. Often people will tell you they have never felt so alive as when they were fighting for survival. We are born sprung to deal with a certain amount of tension, and when things are too easy we tend to become bored and ungrounded. We are actually more likely to eat and drink to excess, and engage in other behaviors (including suicide) which are self-destructive.
posted by localroger at 3:46 PM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Of all the bourgeois platitudes that need to be put in the ground, this is the greatest.

If that will also cure the bourgeois inability to detect irony, I'm all for it.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 5:42 PM on April 27, 2009


Heh. Guilty as charged. Sorry, DA, I was still wearing my Earnestness Hat from work.

I think my comment stands, though. Just not directed at you :)
posted by regicide is good for you at 5:46 PM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I work from home, and am generally underemployed.

That's why I'm here posting with you.

To Bertrand Russel!
posted by saysthis at 12:01 AM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Does America, with it's prevailing 'keep your fuckin' hands out of my wallet/every man for himself attitude', cause people to engage in behaviour which more socialist countries do not?"

What my fellow Americans don't seem to understand is that a social safety net is the compromise we make in order to prevent "Every man for himself." Without that bargain, the hand in your wallet becomes literal, and paired with a hand on a knife.

Why yes, I am unemployed. Why do you ask?
posted by klangklangston at 12:11 AM on April 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


klangklangston, it strikes me just now that perhaps the conservatards' 'every man for himself' exhortations have shades of their obsession with somehow dragging humanity back into the Dark Ages.

Oh, logic. Not everyone has it.
posted by kldickson at 6:00 PM on April 28, 2009


"klangklangston, it strikes me just now that perhaps the conservatards' 'every man for himself' exhortations have shades of their obsession with somehow dragging humanity back into the Dark Ages."

Yeah, it's like, y'know, I've read Hobbes. I know how this goes. If we don't acknowledge either common humanity out of intrinsic moral reasons or out of pragmatic desire, well, we're in a state of war.

Funny how this is only obliquely acknowledged when gun owners talk about how the police have no legal obligation to protect them, thus necessitating firearms.
posted by klangklangston at 11:36 PM on April 28, 2009


Most (sane) conservatives aren't intrinsically against law enforcement or even social programs insofar as they're cost-effective at reducing crime; they just think they're overpaying for the benefit they realize personally.

Modern American politics basically comes down to a "value proposition" — do you think the government as it is represents a good value for the money, or that it's wasting money for what it provides? Based on that answer you're probably either in favor of giving it more money to spend, until it reaches some cost/benefit maximum, or taking money away and decreasing taxes, paring it back in favor of the same maximum.

The Devil is, as always, in the details; there's no really objective way to quantify "realized benefit due to government," so there will always be room to quibble over it. That quibbling is politics.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:32 AM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]



Those experiences of unemployment nearly killed me.

That which does not kill you makes you stronger.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:20 PM on April 27 [+] [!]


eponysterical.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 2:35 AM on April 29, 2009


"Most (sane) conservatives aren't intrinsically against law enforcement or even social programs insofar as they're cost-effective at reducing crime; they just think they're overpaying for the benefit they realize personally."

Sure, and as noted by the further left, Social Democracy or Trade Unionism is a sop to the working class to keep them from revolting and dismantling capitalism.

The problem is that minarchists tend to commit the same cognitive fallacy that has been noted so many times with consumers: they are more unhappy about a loss of resources than they are happy about a gain, or even retaining. That, combined with a bias for society as it stands (or its antecedents—again, the loss is more acute than the gain) in their assumptions about the future leads them to undervalue social services, especially if they're not immediately benefiting, and over-value as independent their own property.

But when balanced against visions of modern states that explicitly do not endeavor to provide social safety nets for their populace, or even an accurate depiction of historical America, the answer is that no one would be happier in Somalia or Deadwood.

This isn't to say that all complaints regarding the size and efficacy of government are illegitimate, or that tax money couldn't often be better allocated (and regarding the quibbling, I had a professor who held that the proper definition of politics was the allocation of finite resources within a group). It's just that I take their views with a grain of salt.
posted by klangklangston at 8:32 AM on April 29, 2009


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