WASHINGTON -- With 17 percent of the American workforce either unemployed or underemployed, experts predict that the scarring consequences of the recession -- not just on the bank accounts, but on the health and longevity of the jobless -- will be far-reaching and severe.
Dr. Elise Gould, director of health policy research at the Economic Policy Institute, said in a forum on health and unemployment Friday afternoon that research shows that losing one's job can have a "powerful and negative impact" on the health of the jobless, leading to feelings of failure, depression, anxiety, notably increasing the risks of strokes, heart attacks and catastrophic illnesses, and potentially leading to premature mortality.
"After wage losses, the most direct impact of unemployment is loss of health insurance coverage for those who had it in the first place," she said. "But this is only tip of the iceberg when we think about people's health. It's clear that many Americans are still hurting and will be hurting for a very long time."
According to a research study conducted by William T. Gallo, professor of health policy and management at CUNY, the six- and ten-year risk of heart attack or stroke in people between 51 and 61 years old who have lost their jobs is more than double that of the employed. Gallo also noticed some stress-related changes in the health behavior of older jobless people: there was less physical activity and an increase in daily cigarette consumption among long-term unemployed smokers, an increased risk of a smoking relapse, and some increased drinking and weight gain, which increases the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Gallo said that even the risk or fear of losing one's job was just a strong a predictor as the actual job loss on an older person's overall health because of internal psychological factors.
Kate Strully, assistant professor at the University of Albany, said the best way to help the longterm jobless cope with unemployment and ameliorate their health issues is to make job loss less traumatic and stressful by reducing the associated financial strain through unemployment insurance, job search assistance and career training.
"We don't often think of unemployment insurance or job search assistance or so forth as a health policy," she said at the forum, "but given the links between psychological components of job loss, stress and disease, financial strain, it's quite possible that there may be health benefits that we currently aren't capturing related to these sorts of programs."
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