Losing your job can make you feel lousy. Whether you're fired or laid-off, joining the ranks of the unemployed is not exactly a feel-good event. You don't need a study to tell you that.
Strully used a nationally representative and continually updated data set known as the U.S. Panel of Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), which surveys people around the country each year on their employment status and their self-reports of health, among other things. Strully used data from 1999, 2001 and 2003 to track people's job status and the impact on each person's health 18 months later. Since previous studies on employment and health suffered from a chicken-or-egg conundrum — researchers could never be sure whether the stresses and strains of unemployment led to poorer health, or whether people's poor health led to missed work days and lower productivity, which contributed to job loss — Strully focused on people who reported having lost their job due to factors out of their control, such as the entire company shutting its doors. (See the worst business deals of 2008.)
She found that among people unemployed under these circumstances and who did not report any health problems prior to losing their job, 80% were diagnosed with a new health problem — ranging from hypertension and heart disease to diabetes — 18 months later. (Not surprisingly, those who started out with one or more of the conditions asked about on the survey were 54% more likely to lose their job within a year and half, for any reason, than those who did not report any health problems.) The most commonly reported conditions among this group were high blood pressure, arthritis and other cardiovascular-related problems. "Job loss leads to a lot of physiological changes," says Strully, who conducted her study as a Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar. "That's definitely what this suggests."
More intriguing was the long-term effect job loss appeared to have. Even if some of these people found new jobs soon after losing their first one, they were more likely to retain the legacy of poor health from having once been unemployed. "People who lost their job and were re-employed within a year and half also reported increased onset of new health problems," she says. "They shouldn't have had the most severe experiences of unemployment and income loss, and still we see them having new health issues."
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