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The Impact of Layoffs on Health: Going from Insult to Injury

Man suffering from heart attack: Impact of layoffs on your health

Heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, arthritis. These are just a few of the chronic or fatal illnesses people are more likely to experience in the months or even years after being laid off. While it doesn’t take a scientist to know that finding oneself out of a job is a terrible feeling—even traumatic—new research quantifies that toll on our health.

One study, for example, found that displaced workers became twice as likely to experience a heart attack or stroke. Another analyzed the life expectancy of displaced workers and found that deaths among those who had been laid off were 10% to 15% higher even 20 years later. This was particularly the case among high-seniority male workers, whose death rates increased from between 50% to 100% in the first year of unemployment.

In the midst of the Great Recession, sociologist Kate Strully conducted a study that analyzed the ways involuntary job loss triggers serious physical and mental illnesses. Her findings were dramatic. Among those who reported no serious health concerns prior to losing their jobs, 80% had been diagnosed with a new health problem within 18 months of being out of work. These were serious health issues—hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease among them. Even those who landed a new job within a year and a half continued to struggle with the conditions they acquired while being unemployed.

The Mental and Physical Toll of Unemployment

Why such a decline in health?

As noted in a 2010 New York Times article, significant, ongoing stress raises levels of the hormones that promote inflammation and cause other serious biochemical changes. In addition to the stress of financial insecurity, unemployed workers lose important social contacts and a feeling they are contributing to a larger organization or purpose. On top of that, poor coping skills can lead to detrimental behavior changes: an increase in drinking, a relapse in smoking, and a general lack of gumption to get off the couch, stay active, and plan healthy meals, for example.

Importantly, displaced workers are dealing with stress beyond the literal months of unemployment. For those who were aware of the signs of impeding layoffs, anxiety may have reared its head long before the pink slips were handed out. Even after landing a new job, many workers find themselves in positions that pay less than the ones they left. Sociologist James Laurence found that people who experienced a layoff reported lower levels of trust even 17 years later.

Breaking the Link between Unemployment and Poor Health

While involuntary unemployment may be out of our control, mitigating the stress it causes isn’t. Some evidence suggests that solid financial planning may be our best defense against the negative impacts of unemployment on our health. Strully’s research, for example, revealed that blue-collar workers who had been laid off were twice as likely to report being in fair or poor health than were their white-collar counterparts. Why the disproportionate response? While the reasons were not entirely clear, Strully conjectured that blue-collar workers were more likely to have smaller financial buffers. That resulted in a greater degree of stress and anxiety. When you consider the fact that 60% of jobs lost during the recession paid between $14 and $21 per hour, it’s fair to say the negative health effects of unemployment impacted a large swath of our country.

An Ounce of Prevention: Build Your Financial Wellness Today to Ensure Your Physical Wellness Tomorrow

Closer to home, University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor J. Michael Collins  asserts that financial wellness is linked to our physical and psychological wellbeing. Below are a few resources to ensure your bank account is healthy, which will also have benefits for your body.

  1. Maintain a budget: https://safetynet.com/blog/use-budgeting-template/
  2. Confirm you’ve got enough in your emergency fund: https://safetynet.com/blog/how-much-emergency-savings-need/
  3. Consider working with a financial coach: https://safetynet.com/blog/qa-financial-coach-peggy-olive/
  4. Consider income loss insurance: https://safetynet.com/