Unemployment has a detrimental effect on the health of young Americans
Acton Institute Powerblog

Unemployment has a detrimental effect on the health of young Americans

Young Americans that are unemployed have worse physical well-being than their employed elders, according to a new survey.

Gallup and Healthways surveyed people in 47 high-income-economy countries for two years on physical well-being, which they defined as having good health and enough energy to get things done daily. Their survey classified responses as “thriving” (well-being that is strong and consistent), “struggling” (well-being that is moderate or inconsistent), or “suffering” (well-being that is low and inconsistent).

The survey found that in the U.S., age has less of an influence on physical well-being than employment status—and unemployment has a particularly significant effect. Young adults (age 15-29) that are employed reported the same level (31 percent) of well-being as employed older adults (age 50 and above). But young adults that are unemployed have lower well-being (26 percent) than older adults who have jobs.

Perhaps most surprising, the well-being effects of unemployment were worse for those with the highest level of education. Gallup notes that while more than a quarter of unemployed adults with an elementary or secondary education are thriving in their physical well-being, this figure drops to 15 percent among unemployed college graduates or those who have completed four years of school beyond high school.

These health effects of unemployment do not appear in low- to upper-middle-income economies, where even young adults who are unemployed have higher physical well-being than older adults who are employed. So what could be the cause? At Harvard Business Review, Brandon Busteed and Mona Mourshed speculate that unemployment may be harder to bear when family support is absent:

Take three reference points: India, Mexico, and the U.S. In India, the vast majority of Generation-program students are living with several members in their households — in fact, only 1% are living by themselves, and 45% have six or more people in the households.

U.S. youth, on the other hand, are often on their own, with 26% of them living by themselves as the only adults in the household. Mexico is a middle point between the two, with 11% single dwellers. For reference, Mexico and India, when viewed as part of upper-middle-income and lower-middle-income economies, tend to have higher percentages of thriving among young unemployed adults.

This survey reveals yet again that the effects of unemployment are not only financial, but also physical, emotional, and spiritual.

When a person loses their job, they’ve lost a means to provide for themselves and their family, an important aspect of their human flourishing, and the primary way they connect with and serve their neighbors. With the loss in vocation comes a loss in meaning. Not surprisingly, unemployment can have long-term negative effects on communities, families, and a person’s emotional and physical well-being.

Helping the jobless find both work and meaning in their lives must be a priority for churches, as well as for individual Christians. In particular, we need to let young adults who are searching for work know they are not alone.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).