Let's face it, it doesn't take a scientific study for people to know that being out of work for a long time is no picnic.
But, a new study by the Pew Research Center delves into just how bad it can be, and we're not just talking about a lack of money.
The title of the study sums it up pretty well: "The Impact of Long-term Unemployment: Lost Income, Lost Friends, and Loss of Self-respect." People who remain unemployed for more than six months see a much greater impact on their lives, with one of the biggest issues being losing your friends and your self esteem.
Unemployment at a record high
The study looked at the latest unemployment statistics from the federal government, which shows the median duration of unemployment stood at 25.5 weeks as of June 2010. That means that half of those unemployed have been looking for work for six months or longer, the largest proportion since World War II. The study's analysis of the unemployment figures shows that the hardest hit are older workers, blue collar workers, and African-American workers. But, all demographic and ethnic groups have experienced a sharp rise in long-term unemployment.
The Pew researchers interviewed hundreds of unemployed people across the country. For those who have been out of work for more than six months, more than 55 percent said their family income took a major hit. But, the impact goes well beyond finances. Nearly half of the long-term unemployed said their situation has put a strain on family relationships and that they have lost touch with close friends because of their situation.
Perhaps the biggest impact of all is on self-image. Nearly 40 percent said they have lost self respect. One in four have sought out counseling. And 40 percent said they feel their unemployment will have a severe impact on their ability to achieve their long-term career goals.
Shoving friends away
People who have been unemployed for a long time have a hard time talking about it, whether it be to bloggers like me, or to their own close friends, But several people have talked about it online. The lifestyles website BlissTree.com asked its readers about the problem and several people wrote about it.
A woman named Sha wrote, "I have been unemployed for over a year and I have lost contact with some of my closest friends. I have alienated my family as well. Some of my friends I haven't spoken to for months for shame of saying that I am still unemployed. It is a difficult road. "
And the problem even extends to the cyber-world of friendship. A woman named Traci said, "I worked for several years at a fun office. About 75 people on my Facebook friends list are from this company, which I was laid off from last year. What am I supposed to do? If I read Facebook everyday, I'm constantly reading fun things I'm missing, new projects I'm not working on, etc. I could 'unfriend' them, or 'hide' them, but then maybe I wouldn't hear of a new position opening."
One woman's story
Angela Gregory-Gutierrez did not participate in the study, but she is a classic example of the type of person the study focused on in its report.
Angela lost her job as an associate producer at a TV station in Phoenix, Ariz., in April 2009. The TV business got hit hard by the Great Recession and lots of people lost their jobs. She remained unemployed for 14 months, just finding another job in Bakersfield, Calif., this past May.
"When I lost my job I was obviously devastated, but not surprised," she said. "The company I worked for had gone through two pretty big rounds of layoffs in 10 months. I had only been working there a year, but had relocated my family to Phoenix to take the job. The stress of relocating made losing my job more stressful."
Angela started networking, reworking her resume, doing all the right things to find another job, but they were scarce and she was having no luck.
"The hardest part about being unemployed was not letting myself get stuck in the rut of sitting at home day after day and becoming lethargic," she told me. " I was unemployed for five months before I had my first interview. It was another four months before I had another interview."
"Oddly enough, the hardest part wasn't the huge cut in pay, when going on unemployment. Yes, that hurt! But the hardest part was staying focused, and not getting depressed about being out of work."
Angela's reactions to being unemployed fit some of the patterns described in the Pew study, but she broke out of others.
She did seek out counseling to help her stay optimistic, and some of her relationships suffered.
"The one relationship that did suffer, was my marriage," she said. "Already in trouble after relocating, losing my job was the straw that broke the camel's back. Two months after I lost my job my husband and I separated. We both moved back to California, but decided to separate, and have not been together since May 2009." Now that she is working again, and he has returned to school, they are working on their relationship.
Where Angela broke out of the mold was her relationships with friends and other family members.
"I surrounded myself with people who helped me keep it together, so to speak, when I started to lose hope," she said. "I have one friend, in particular, who I leaned on quite heavily. Without her, and the counseling, I'm not sure how I would have survived. My family was a great help also. My dad, especially."
Angela was persistent and hung in there, and eventually got back into the career she loves. Her advice:
"Network like crazy! And stick with the job search. Allow yourself to get a little depressed, eat a gallon of ice cream every now and then, but then pick yourself back up and keep moving," she told me. "Having a family and a routine helped. Otherwise, I thinking sitting around and staying depressed would have been much easier. Surround yourself with friends who can keep your spirits lifted, even when you don't feel like having them lifted. It's OK to be humble and ask for help. No one is above needing help every now and then. "
Great advice for everyone, whether you have a job or not.
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