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Unemployment And Health

March 20 2010 - Harvard University research, published in Demography, found that loss of employment can have significant long-term health consequences. Even individuals who quickly find new work are at increased risk of developing health problems such as hypertension, heart disease, heart attack, stroke or diabetes as a result of losing their previous job.

Researcher Kate Strully, of the School of Public Health said:

"In today's economy, job loss can happen to anybody. We need to be aware of the health consequences of losing our jobs and do what we can to alleviate the negative effects."

The study drew on data from the U.S. Panel Study of Income Dynamics (a nationally representative survey from 1999, 2001 and 2003) concerning job displacements across various occupational groups including managerial and professional (30 per cent); sales, clerical, and craft (33 per cent); machine operators (20 per cent); and service positions (13 per cent).

The report acknowledges that workers in poor health are known to have a 40 per cent greater chance of being laid off or fired. However the current study found that "job churning" (defined as high rates of job loss but low unemployment) also has negative health consequences for workers who were previously well. The odds of reporting “fair” or “poor” health increased by 54 per cent among respondents across all sectors who had lost their job as a result of establishment closure. The chances of developing a new health condition increased by 83 percent for respondents with no pre-existing health problems. Even when respondents found new jobs, they retained an increased risk of developing stress-related health conditions.

The study found that loss of employment in circumstances other than establishment closure had different health consequences depending on occupation. Being fired, laid off or leaving a job voluntarily more than doubled the odds of blue-collar workers reporting “fair” or “poor” health. However, for reasons that remain unclear, job displacements of this type were found to have no significant association with adverse health reports from white-collar respondents.

David R. Williams, Norman professor of public health commented:

"As we consider ways to improve health in America during a time of economic recession and rising unemployment, it is critical that we look beyond health care reform to understand the tremendous impact that factors like job loss have on our health. Where and how we live, work, learn and play have a greater impact on how healthy we are than the health care we receive."

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