The Breakdown: The Ripple Effects of Unemployment

A banner reading 'Jobs' hangs on thre facade of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington.

Forget about Wall Street. The story of the economy has become a tale about jobs. It's the fundamental "economic fundamental."

Getting people back to work. Creating jobs to grow our economy. At first glance, it is a narrative about a number: 14 million Americans looking for work. Six million Americans out of the job market for the longest period in our history. No new jobs in the month of August.

But the story is more than just about the jobless. Unemployment affects us all. It affects people with work, business that are hiring, and cities that have created jobs. It affects our culture, our families, and our friendships. The ripple effects of unemployment go beyond the headlines of job loss and job creation.

It goes to places: "I think the more diversity you have in your economy, the more steady that your employment becomes," says Russell Rogerson with the Charlotte Regional Partnership, a nonprofit group that recruits businesses to Charlotte, North Carolina.

Charlotte has been hit hard since the Great Recession. Bank of America is based there. The city has lost thousands of jobs from the shrinking financial industry. And this week came the rumors of more bad news. Bank of America might layoff 30,000 employees over the next few years across the country. So what does a city do to reinvent itself? How does it go about creating jobs when its main economic engines are sputtering?

It goes to people: "You feel as though you don't really belong in the places that you used to be in." That, according to Dominique Browning, who worked for decades at big name magazines.

She was editor-in-chief of House & Garden for 13 years. It had nearly a million readers when it folded, and Browning lost her job. Now, she's in the process of figuring out the next steps. But you just don't lose your paycheck or your benefits. A lot of folks lose their place, and when unemployment lasts a long time, it can change the way you interact with your friends and family.

It goes to education. "In 1970, the unemployment rate among young people in the sort of 20 to 24 age bracket was about 8 percent. In 2009, it was nearly 15 percent and it's gotten worse since then," says Katherine Newman, dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Science at Johns Hopkins University.

"We're talking about people who are usually in the prime years of entering the labor market and they''re just finding it harder and harder to find a toehold. And if you can't find a toehold when you're in your 20s, things don't necessarily look much better when you get to your 30s," Newman said. "You look like damaged goods. So the whole progress, or pathway, into the middle class is becoming increasingly compromised by the Great Recession."

But try telling that to recent college grads who can't find work even with their fancy degrees. They're stuck between a bad job market and hard reality. And not being able to get unstuck is going to have lasting effects.

It goes to employers: "The longer that you're unemployed, yes, the worse it is. Because they'll start to look at you and ask 'Why are you still unemployed? Is it that you're unemployable?'" That's the outlook of Jared Anderson in his job search.

A few months ago, a trend started to emerge. Help wanted signs with specific language saying unemployed folks would not be considered. Is that legal? There are more workers out of work in this country for a longer period of time than in any recent moment in history. You ask economists and they'll say those are the folks that need jobs. But how do you sell yourself in a market that might see you as "damaged goods."

It goes to society: Marketplace Money host Tess Vigeland discusses how unemployment is affecting our investing. Marketplace's Alisa Roth looks at why crime is down even though unemployment is up. Stacey Vanek-Smith reports on a major shift in how Americans are working in this economy. Adriene Hill covers the growing trend of people heading abroad to find a job. And health report Gregory Warner tells us about the impact that unemployment is having on the uninsured and the insured.

Uncertainty about the job market is creating a new normal for our economy, and the way we live.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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