The United States is experiencing the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression. Despite signs of recovery, millions of Americans remain out of work, out of savings, and near the end of their employment benefits. And the U.S. work-based safety net seems increasingly vulnerable to failure at a time when jobs are scarce. Numerous studies have demonstrated the negative impact on health that job loss can create – from overall poorer health status to increased risk of heart attack and stroke in older workers. These health effects are brought about in large part by the loss of health insurance and/or income, both of which lead to delaying or avoiding medical care. In addition to the physical effects, there is a well-documented negative impact on mental health. Unemployed workers experience negative mental-health symptoms such as anxiety and depression, while at the same time losing many of the psychologically positive aspects of working such as daily structure, social contact, sense of purpose, and regular activity. Workers’ families are also hard hit when one member becomes unemployed. If unemployment levels continue through 2010 at their present rate, one in four children will live in families below the poverty line. Poverty can negatively impact child nutrition, health, and stable housing. Additionally, the negative psychological effects of unemployment on parents may affect the home environment, leading to poor outcomes for children.
With support from the Foundation, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) will hold two public forums to highlight the social costs of high- and long-term unemployment: one will focus on health outcomes and one on the impact on children. These public events will bring together scholars and policy experts to discuss these issues, with the goal of informing both the wider public and the policy debate about the social costs of unemployment, especially the long-term effects on workers and their families. Each event will consist of a panel of four or five experts, in addition to a moderator. The forums will also include a discussion with the audience, which will be made up of government staff; media; staff from advocacy organizations, think tanks and unions; academics; and the general public. Each participant will also produce a short paper or presentation summarizing their main research and policy findings which will be distributed at the event and posted on the EPI and RSF websites. EPI has extensive experience with public events of this type, and has received media attention for past events on related topics. They expect that these events will be well-attended and generate public interest.