This text was adapted by The Saylor Foundation under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 0 License without attribution as requested by the work’s original creator or licensee. Preface



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The Impact of Unemployment


Although the news article that began this chapter gave us a moving account of unemployed people at food banks, survey data also provide harsh evidence of the social and psychological effects of being unemployed. In July 2010, the Pew Research Center issued a report based on a survey of 810 adults who were currently unemployed or had been unemployed since the Great Recession began in December 2007 and 1,093 people who had never been unemployed during the recession (Morin & Kochhar, 2010). [17] The report’s title, Lost Income, Lost Friends—and Loss of Self-Respect, summarized its major findings.

Of those who had been unemployed for at least six months (long-term unemployment), 44 percent said that the recession had caused “major changes” in their lives, versus only 20 percent of those who had never been unemployed. More than half of the long-term unemployed said their family income had declined, and more than 40 percent said that their family relations had been strained and that they had lost contact with close friends. In another finding, 38 percent said they had “lost some self-respect” from being unemployed. One-third said they were finding it difficult to pay their rent or mortgage, compared to only 16 percent of those who had never been unemployed during the recession. Half had borrowed money from family or friends to pay bills, versus only 18 percent of the never unemployed. Of all the people who had been unemployed, almost half had experienced sleep difficulties, and 5 percent had experienced drug or alcohol problems. All these numbers paint a distressing picture of the social and psychological impact of unemployment during the Great Recession that began in late 2007.



Unemployment lines were all too common in recent years. Long-term unemployment often causes various social and psychological difficulties.http://images.flatworldknowledge.com/barkansoc/barkansoc-fig12_x008.jpg

Image courtesy of Michael Raphael at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, http://www.photolibrary.fema.gov/photolibrary/photo_details.do?id=29783.
Unemployment also has a significant impact on children whose parent or parents are unemployed. The Note 12.21 "Children and Our Future" box discusses this impact.


Children and Our Future


The Hidden Casualties of Unemployment

As unemployment soared in the wake of the Great Recession that began in 2007, many more children lived in a household where a parent had become unemployed. By early 2010, 11 percent of American children, or 8.1 million children overall, had an unemployed parent. Just slightly more than two years earlier, this number had been much smaller, 4.8 million. In just over two years, then, the number of children with an unemployed parent grew by two-thirds.

After their parents became unemployed, these children began to suffer various psychological effects. One news report summarized this psychological impact as follows: “For many families across the country, the greatest damage inflicted by this recession has not necessarily been financial, but emotional and psychological. Children, especially, have become hidden casualties, often absorbing more than their parents are fully aware of. Several academic studies have linked parental job loss—especially that of fathers—to adverse impacts in areas like school performance and self-esteem.”

The emotional and psychological effects for children occur for at least two reasons. First, unemployed parents tend to experience extra stress and to become withdrawn. Second, married parents and unmarried partners often experience interpersonal conflict when one of them becomes unemployed. Both of these consequences of unemployment in turn affect children in a household where at least one parent is unemployed.

Children have suffered in other ways from the rise in unemployment. More children have become homeless as their households fell into poverty. In addition, children of an unemployed parent are more likely to repeat a grade or, if they are adolescents, to drop out of school. Child abuse has probably also increased in families where a parent became unemployed.

In view of all these consequences for the children of the unemployed, the United States should do everything possible to put parents and other adults back to work and to help the children of unemployed parents deal with the devastating effects of the Great Recession.



Sources: Lovell & Isaacs, 2010; Luo, 2009 [18]

Corporations


One of the most important but controversial features of modern capitalism is the corporation, a formal organization that has a legal existence, including the right to sign contracts, that is separate from that of its members.http://images.flatworldknowledge.com/barkansoc/barkansoc-fig12_x009.jpg

Corporations such as Exxon dominate the US economy. They employ thousands of workers, and their assets total many trillions of dollars.

Image courtesy of David Shankbone, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1251_Avenue_of_the_Americas.JPG.
Adam Smith, the founder of capitalism, envisioned that individuals would own the means of production and compete for profit, and this is the model the United States followed in its early stage of industrialization. After the Civil War, however, corporations quickly replaced individuals and their families as the owners of the means of production and as the competitors for profit. As corporations grew following the Civil War, they quickly tried to control their markets by, for example, buying up competitors and driving others out of business. To do so, they engaged in bribery, kickbacks, and complex financial schemes of dubious ethics. They also established factories and other workplaces with squalid conditions. Their shady financial practices won their chief executives the name “robber barons” and led the federal government to pass the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 designed to prohibit restraint of trade that raised prices (Hillstrom & Hillstrom, 2005). [19]

More than a century later, corporations have increased in both number and size. Although several million US corporations exist, most are fairly small. Each of the largest five hundred, however, has an annual revenue exceeding $4.3 billion (2011 data) and employs thousands of workers. Their total assets run into the trillions of dollars (Fortune, 2011). [20] It is no exaggeration to say they control the nation’s economy, as together they produce most of the US private sector output, employ millions of people, and have revenues equal to most of the US gross domestic product. In many ways, the size and influence of corporations stifle the competition that is one of the hallmarks of capitalism. For example, several markets, including that for breakfast cereals, are controlled by four or fewer corporations. This control reduces competition because it reduces the number of products and competitors, and it thus raises prices to the public (Parenti, 2011). [21]

The last few decades have seen the proliferation and rise of the multinational corporation, a corporation with headquarters in one nation but with factories and other operations in many other nations (Wettstein, 2009).[22] Multinational corporations centered in the United States and their foreign affiliates have more than $17 trillion in assets and employ more than 31 million people (US Census Bureau, 2012). [23] The assets of the largest multinational corporations exceed those of many of the world’s nations. Often their foreign operations are in poor nations, whose low wages make them attractive sites for multinational corporation expansion. Many multinational employees in these nations work in sweatshops at very low pay and amid substandard living conditions. Critics of this practice say multinationals not only mistreat workers in poor nations but also exploit these nations’ natural resources. In contrast, defenders of the practice say multinationals are bringing jobs to poor nations and helping them achieve economic growth. As this debate illustrates, the dominance of multinational corporations will certainly continue to spark controversy.

As we first discussed in Chapter 8 "Crime and Criminal Justice", another controversial aspect of corporations is the white-collar crime in which they engage (Rosoff, Pontell, & Tillman, 2010). [24] Price fixing by corporations costs the US public some $60 billion annually (Simon, 2008). [25] Workplace-related illnesses and injuries that could have been prevented if companies had safe workplaces kill about 50,000 workers each year (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, 2011). [26] An estimated 10,000 US residents die annually from unsafe products, including contaminated food (Consumer Product Safety Commission, 2010; Young, 2010). [27] All in all, corporate lawbreaking and neglect probably result in almost 100,000 deaths annually and cost the public more than $400 billion (Barkan, 2012). [28]

In sum, corporations are the dominant actors in today’s economy. They provide most of our products and many of our services and employ millions of people. It is impossible to imagine a modern industrial system without corporations. Yet they often stifle competition, break the law, and, according to their critics, exploit people and natural resources in developing nations.


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