Long-Term Unemployment Among the Baby Boom Generation: An Exploration of Coping Strategies and Subjective Well-Being, Kelly A. Clark
Why some long-term unemployed individuals are able to cope with job loss and maintain their subjective well-being and others are not able to is a topic of conjecture and research. This study explored the ways that those of the baby boom generation who report positive subjective well-being following job loss have successfully coped. A qualitative approach, using narrative inquiry and analysis was used to explore the coping experiences of long-term unemployed boomers born between 1952 and 1964. A purposive sample of 16 participants reporting positive psychological well-being on the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12) was drawn from a broader population. A large body of literature has argued that job loss has profound and long-lasting detrimental psychological effects (Clark, 2003; Ervasti & Venetoklis, 2010; Jahoda, 1982; Kaufman, 1982; Warr, 1987; Winkelmann & Winkelmann, 1998; Zawadzki & Lazarsfeld, 1935) and many of these studies have found unemployment lowers subjective well-being (Clark, 2003; Ervastia and Venetoklis, 2010; Jahoda, 1982; Warr, 1987; Winkelmann & Winkelmann, 1998). In contrast, and consistent with the findings of Fryer and Payne (1984), Patton and Donohue (1988), McKee-Ryan et al. (2005), and Lin and Leung (2010), the participants in this study reported positive subjective well-being and demonstrated a proactive stance towards unemployment. The 16 study participants took constructive action, adapted, and exerted power on their behalf to buffer the psychological impacts of long-term unemployment. Six key findings were identified: (a) participants productively used their time and maintained structured schedules of meaningful activities; (b) participants experiencing job loss accessed existing and new financial resources to cope; (c) social supports engaged by boomers buffered the impacts of job loss; (d) cognitive maneuvers, such as holding a positive self-assessment, optimism, consciousness, reappraisal, and agency were employed to negotiate their inner struggles; (e) participants living through job loss use the latent functions of employment and personal agency; and (f) participants experiencing job loss are generative midlife adults. This research uncovered the coexistence of three behavioral coping strategies—social support, productive and meaningful use of time, and proactive job search—which together buffered subjective well-being and enabled participants to remain active in their job search. Unexpectedly, this study found that Jahoda’s latent deprivation theory (1982) can be extended to understand subjective well-being among the unemployed. This study has implications that could assist in designing counseling services for unemployed individuals. Findings call for programs for the unemployed to focus on providing access to social supports and productive activities in tandem with the job search. Overall, the results of the study inform employment counselors, gerontological–social work practitioners, social workers, psychologists, and the field of vocational behavior.
Key Words: coping with job loss, unemployment, long-term unemployment, job loss, midlife, baby boomers, generativity, subjective well-being