Many read biographies of rich and successful to find out what are the makings of the great. What do I need? What do I lack to become one of them? We are all in never-ending pursue of success and money searching for any tips, routines, things that we should or should not do to get any closer. But does anyone ever think what are the makings of long-term unemployed?
It seems to me that often the common understanding is that the unemployed is someone who does not want to find work. A person too lazy to grab multiple opportunities laid in from of him/her by employers and entrepreneurs. As a society we ‘help’ people into work by forcing them to volunteer and cutting or freezing their allowances. David Cameron wants to eliminate youth unemployment not by creating more jobs, but by scrapping benefits altogether for people under certain age. In the end, all that those lay-abouts need is a push in the right direction; an incentive to get up from the couch and get on with their lives, isn’t that right? No, it’s not!
It is neither nudge nor incentive they need. Unemployment is nothing like long holidays. It is dreadful, often depressing, embarrassing and demeaning, it is nearly a medical condition – chronic unemployment.. There is no magic switch that makes a person with a history of years or even generations of unemployment go back to work; just like it takes your body time and right kind of treatment to recover from a disease it takes time and a hell lot of work for a long-term unemployed to successfully join the labour market. In my own opinion it all boils down to a situation into which a person is born. One may say that countries like US, UK or any other EU member are a land of opportunity. We should not fool ourselves. A person born in a household with issues ranging from long-term unemployment to substance misuse will have by far higher risk of becoming long-term unemployed themselves than a descendant of middle class parents. Even when the education is free and available a child needs encouragement, support and parents’ supervision to get through it. How many are there not getting any of it? And then there is social housing – a scheme meant to help, I suppose. but sometimes strikingly resembling ghetto’s for people we would rather not see on day-to-day basis. Estates or even whole districts often become a land without opportunity, producing more and more people damned to join the ranks of long-term unemployed. And then in the end, after all the denying of opportunities, marginalising and belittling all we have to say to those is – This is your fault! How is that fair?
For those looking for anthropological take on how we force people into black market economy I strongly recommend ‘In search of respect: selling crack in El Barrio’ by Philippe Bourgois