Not surprisingly, the majority of those surveyed reported a decline in family finances. Nearly half reported strains on family relations and 43 percent reported losing touch with close friends as a result of the recession. Nearly four in 10 reported a loss in self-respect and slightly more expect the recession to have a big impact on their long-term career goals.
Epidemiological studies have also found unemployment to be associated with higher mortality rates and other health problems. The New York Times reported last year that a recent study found that workers who lost their jobs through no fault of their own were "twice as likely to report developing a new ailment such as high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease over the next year and a half, compared to people who were continuously employed."
The human toll is high indeed.
Fortunately, Congress recently, if belatedly, helped by extending unemployment insurance and providing some fiscal aid to states to prevent further layoffs and cuts in services (with a little help from West Virginia's newest senator). But more rather than less federal action will likely be needed to avert a double dip recession or a jobless "recovery" that leaves millions of Americans behind. This could include measures aimed at job creation as well as funding unemployment insurance.
Action is also needed here in West Virginia, where some jobless workers aren't eligible for unemployment benefits to start with. The Recovery Act provides federal money to states that modernize their unemployment insurance systems to reflect the 21st century workforce. Thirty-two states, including some of the reddest, have already done this and have drawn down those dollars.
West Virginia is eligible for $22 million if it extends benefits to part-time workers and those who lost jobs due to domestic violence and compelling family reasons when they are again available for work. People in these categories are less likely to require long-term benefits since part-time jobs are easier to find, and family emergencies are not related to labor market conditions.
The boost to the state's unemployment insurance fund would be immediate, while payouts for additional coverage would be spread out over time. This influx of money could help the state get through some projected lean months and possibly eliminate the need to borrow money from the federal government to keep the fund solvent. The expansion could be revisited in the future if needed.
Aggressive action on unemployment doesn't just help families get by in hard times; it's also among the most effective ways of getting money to circulate throughout the community until private sector job growth resumes.
Wilson, director of the American Friends Service Committee WV Economic Justice Project, publishes a daily blog, goatrope.blogspot.com, and is a Gazette contributing columnist.