October 9, 2013
by LuAnn Pierce, LCSW
Job loss has become quite common in the US economy, and to some extent in Canada, over the past few years. When one of the primary breadwinners becomes unemployed, everyone in the family feels the pain. The ripple effect of job loss has been researched and is believed to affect at least two generations, and possibly more depending on the cultural dynamics.
The person who becomes unemployed is at risk for a myriad of health and mental health issues that are often referred to as stress-related illnesses. Because stress, anxiety and depression can suppress the immune system, people who are under a lot of stress may be more susceptible to colds, flu and other contagious illnesses. Headaches, muscle pain and related physical symptoms are often manifestations of stress. Self care becomes more important than ever.
Effects of Job Loss on Spouses/Partners
- Relationship stress – When one person begins to carry more of the financial stress for the family it usually affects the relationship. Even partners/spouses who are very aware often admit to feeling the pressure which can show up in higher levels of frustration, less patience, more arguments and less intimacy. Be aware of how the stress of job loss is affecting each of you. Talk about it openly. Get help from a professional if needed.
- Sexual implications – These additional responsibilities can impede one’s desire and ability to be involved sexually with his/her partner. Depending on the circumstances of the job loss, some people experience a loss of self worth or feel inadequate, which can permeate every aspect of his/her being. If sexual problems occur, talk to your doctor or counselor about it.
- Changes in power dynamics – There’s nothing like job loss to shift the balance of power in a relationship. Although many modern families have agreed upon contracts that entail one person working outside the home while the other manages the household and children, when that situation arises out of necessity rather than desire, it can be difficult for the couple.
People get a sense of satisfaction and purpose from their work and financial contributions to their families. To have that abruptly removed can create feelings of worthlessness and powerlessness. This is something to be constantly aware of and talk about to avoid long-term damage to the relationship.
Effects of Job Loss on Children and Teens
- Emotional implications – Kids are very sensitive to changes in their environment. They pick up on the emotional tone of the household. Even when they don’t know what is wrong, they often know something is wrong. They may be worried that whatever is wrong is their fault, or that their parents will split up – it is best to talk to them. Don’t give them too many details, simply say that something happened that resulted in Mom/Dad losing her/his job.
Assure them that you will take care of them and that you will be together. If you have a plan, tell them what it is if it affects them, ie. Daddy will be going out of town for interviews on Tuesday and Wednesday, but he will return on Thursday. Keep it predictable and as consistent as possible, with simple explanations when things are different. Consult a counselor if you think it might be useful.
- Social and peer relations – Sometimes kids, especially teens, may feel embarrassed about the job loss. They may not want their friends to know. Some kids may not want to invite kids over after school or have their unemployed parent show up to get them in the middle of the day. Allow them to work this out in their own way. Offer to talk to them about it, but don’t push it.
If the job loss is a long-term situation, you may need to have some family discussions about their feelings. Consider talking to a family counselor. What is important is that you let them know that you understand how they feel, and what you are doing about the situation, and how you are coping with your own feelings without disclosing too much information.
- School performance and behavior – Stress and worry often show up for kids of all ages at school. This may be in their behavior, concentration, grades or a combination of things. It may be a good idea to let teachers know that there are some changes going on at home (without disclosing too much) and ask for feedback if the teachers or school officials note any concerns. If there are concerns, consult the school counselor for assistance.
The reality is that long-term unemployment may result in drastic changes within the family. If the wage-earner is unemployed for a longer period of time, the family almost always experiences some devastating losses. Paying the monthly bills may be difficult, or impossible. Some families have to relocate to a less expensive home, frequently requiring children to change schools and leave behind their friends.
When these things happen, tensions build and families often have serious problems coping with all the loss and change. Seek help through a licensed therapist to get through these difficulties and ensure that you and your family are not just spared the long term effects, but come out stronger and with a set of tools that will help you find a new career path where you can thrive.
Cook, Nancy. "What Happens to the Children of the Unemployed?" NationalJournal.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Sept. 2013.
Stevens, Ann H. "Effects of Job Loss on Individuals and Families." Lecture. UC Davis. UCDavis.edu. Web. 25 Sept. 2013.