Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Upside of Unemployment

One question Michael asked during the focus groups with people who were looking for work was whether there were any positive aspects of being unemployed. Again, further details will be in the paper, but it is clear that there are few positive things about being unemployed. Of those that responded that they had benefited from being laid off, the main theme revolved around spending more time with their family, something particularly pronounced among men. Some others mention being able to recapture their identity after several years working in a very time-consuming position that took up a lot of their personal energy. Consistent with the literature when respondents mention positive aspects, many of them do so in the context of adapting to being unemployed and resetting their expectations.

My predominant feeling in reading the interviews and the notes is that this system seems broken. Most of the people interviewed were articulate and had good recent labour market experience. The experiences of unemployment they describe seem like something that should be relegated to the 20th century. While I grew up in a time and place of high unemployment, I still find it hard to fully identify with the respondents as I have not experienced a spell of involuntary unemployment and my job is currently secure. I am currently preparing a talk for the Galway debating society and I have been asked to talk about whether the Irish education system has failed. As it is evolving, I am increasingly coming down on the view that it has failed to the extent that we clearly are not educating people in ways that allow them to adapt and thrive in a fluctuating economy. In some sense, the massive sign on unemployment that still exists in well-being regressions is a measure of educational failure.

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