Most of us we meet a person for the first time, we want to know where he or she is working. If they are not working for anyone or not self-employed through a business or profession, we are curious to know how they survive. Unemployment, in most cases, is a personal and social tragedy.
We usually conceive unemployment in two forms; the anticipated one which is known as retirement and the sudden one which comes through dismissal or redundancy. There is a third type of unemployment which falls in between the two – that is disguised unemployment. It takes the form of someone doing less work than he is capable of doing. A person sits by the roadside trying to sell a few bananas or zitumbuwa (oily cakes) is underemployed. If given the chance to do a job where they can earn more money, they will give up wasting time selling what earns them too little. A university graduate who is employed as a messenger or guard is suffering disguised unemployment because with their education and qualification, they can do more complicated jobs and deserve a higher salary.
There are similarities and differences between retirement and unemployment. Both involve being out of work, a drop in income and excessive leisure.
But the retired person does not often go about job hunting because they continue to receive income though at a reduced rate. Moreover, the retired person is happier and does not feel humiliated because retirement is a socially approved incident.
Psychologists have done research on the personal consequences of losing a job involuntarily. Not only does a person forfeit income but also friends. It is not far from the truth to say when you have no money, you have no friends. If you formed the habit of going to a club and drink with friends, you will find that when you are not earning income anymore, most of your friends want to avoid your company. They realise that while they may buy you a bottle, you are likely to reciprocate. Moreover, some research has exposed the fact that a person who has lost a job tends to drink too much and try to drown their worries. Little do they know that alcohol does not reduce but increase worries.
Where an unemployed person is not supported by their family, they suffer extreme frustration and some suffer ill-health. This is after the person has lost self-esteem.
Initial reaction to loss of a job is great shock, especially if the job was a source not only of income but prestige. Imagine you are a chief inspector of police or chief executive today and tomorrow you suddenly told your service are no longer required, the shock may be accompanied with disbelief but as days pass on, a person accepts the incident as irreversible just as they accept bereavement.
If unemployment prolong even after extensive search for a job, some people have been known to suffer a psychological illnesses that leads them to untimely death or unsound mind.
Those people who have lost jobs together do not maintain their social relationship once they are unemployed. Each separately looks for friends to support them, and if they have found them, they do not invite the other fellow to come and join them.
Not all the unemployed reacts passively. Some may take unpaid work rather than endure the ordeal in idleness. In this way, they may develop relationship that will enable them to find a new job.
Unemployment has social consequences as well. When a person loses a job, how does his or her reaction affects society? Most people who engage in the crime of robbery with violence are unemployed. Similarly, among prostitutes are found those who have failed to find employment, they are not doing it because they enjoy it but they want to survive.
A person who loses a job also loses income and is unable to continue being a customer of those who have been supplying them goods and services on regular basis. When too many people lose jobs during a recession, the effects on the local company can be devastating. Having lost customers, firms may declare some employers as redundant, thereby making the unemployment of the community grave.
When chances of finding jobs are remote, a large number of people may start migrating to other places or countries, whether they will be welcome there is a different matter. President Donald Trump is building something akin to Chinese Great Wall to keep out illegal immigrants. Thousands of Africans are drowning in the Mediterranean Sea trying to get into Europe and find employment there. This, of course, is a grave problem both for the countries to which they want to immigrate and those from which they emigrate.
What are the causes of mass unemployment and what remedies are there is a subject for macroeconomics not psychology. It deserves to be dealt with in a different essay.