Government Relations Update

In an effort to address the growing problem of unemployment, APA’s Public Interest Government Relations Office and the office of Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), hosted a Capitol Hill briefing on Oct. 17 highlighting the benefits of work and the psychological effects of unemployment on individuals, families and communities.

APA member Richard Price, PhD, of the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, opened the briefing by arguing that joblessness — and chronic unemployment in particular — produces a cascade of negative life events. These include economic hardship, loss of health insurance, foreclosure, and mental health problems. The mental health problems include depression and anxiety, feelings of hopelessness and shame, and familial tension and conflict.

Hastings is the lead sponsor of the National Employment and Economic Security Act, which would address some of these issues. The legislation calls for establishing a national commission to study employment and economic insecurity and their effects on mental health, and to recommend ways to reduce the economic and psychological effects of unemployment. The bill cites troubling statistics from APA’s 2010 Stress in America survey, including that the most frequently cited sources of stress remain money (76 percent), work (70 percent) and the economy (65 percent).

As of October, the nation’s unemployment rate was 9 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with women, younger workers and African-Americans reporting the highest rates of involuntary part-time employment. Unemployed people are often forced to make hard choices regarding the allocation of family funds for health care, leading many to sacrifice their own physical well-being in order to care for a chronically ill parent, spouse or child, Price said.

How best to break this cycle? Help people find jobs, said Price. Jobsearch training programs, such as the Jobs Project for the Unemployed that Price leads, help individuals identify their marketable skills and explore opportunities beyond their prior work experiences and through their networks, he said.

“Most people start a job search by opening the help-wanted ads,” said Price. “Well, your brother-in-law can tell you more about what jobs are out there than those ads do.”

He also noted that people who get help in the job-search process get jobs more quickly, “thereby side-stepping the host of negative consequences sparked by remaining jobless over time.”

Art Goldsmith, PhD, an economist at Washington and Lee University, also underscored the need to help Americans find jobs, noting that for every U.S. job opening, there are six people actively looking for work. He argued that inadequate private sector spending is the chief cause of the United States’s elevated unemployment rate, especially now that the federal spending associated with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — the stimulus funds that created 3 million jobs — have run their course. He acknowledged that this is a very difficult job market for young jobseekers and urged policymakers to consider developing mentorship programs in an effort to both help young job-seekers find work that fosters skill development, and to instillin them the mindset needed to find and keep jobs during tough economic times.

Another presenter, Denny Abbott of Workforce Alliance of Palm Beach County, Fla., discussed ways to bring workers and employers together. With unemployment in Hastings’s Palm Beach County district ranging between 28 percent and 46 percent, programs designed to promote business in South Florida are in high demand. The Workforce Alliance provides job placement, recruitment assistance and skills training.

“The challenge is not only connecting individuals with short-term job openings, but also generating lasting employment opportunities,” said Abbott. He builds partnerships between the local agricultural industry and construction contractors — partnerships that have decreased unemployment rates and improved the economic climate and could hold promise outside of South Florida, he said.

Krysta Jones is a senior legislative and federal affairs officer in APA’s Public Interest Government Relations Office. Jessica Barber is a doctoral policy intern in the office.