Stay unemployed long enough, and you don't just bounce back once a job rolls around.
People who have been out of work a long time tend to be unhappier, on the whole, than people who have suffered many other types of negative life events, researchers have found. Even if you've lost your spouse to death or divorce, you have a better chance of climbing back up to your previous level of happiness.
That seems to be because people invest a huge amount of their identities in their professional lives -- and it's hard to make the adjustment when those lives get put on hold.
In a recent paper at the policy site VoxEU (h/t The Washington Post), researchers based in Berlin found that people who are out of work a long time don't report feeling any more satisfied with their lives until they officially retire. You could spend 10 years unemployed and looking for work, but as soon as you declare yourself "retired" -- in other words, no longer trying to participate in the workforce -- you're apt to feel a whole lot better.
What this seems to suggest, the German researchers argue, is that people are happiest when their professional definitions of themselves match up with what they're actually doing in life.
That's something millions of Americans are currently in a position to know firsthand. Of the country's 12.5 million unemployed people, some 3.9 million have been out of work for more than a year, according to The Washington Post. And many of them are suffering psychological fallout as a result.
Long-term unemployment tends to be self-perpetuating -- evidence suggests that the longer you've been out of work, the harder it is to get the next job -- and it often extracts a toll on the physical and mental health of the people experiencing it.
People who have been out of work a year or more tend to experience more stress and isolation, and be at greater risk for depression, anxiety, heart disease and other illnesses, repeated studies have shown.
Yet even as the economic downturn has kept millions of people out of work, it's also forced budget cuts at the state and federal level that have hollowed out mental health resources in many areas, and put greater strain on those health workers who are left.