Thursday, February 25, 2010

American Tragedy: Layoffs Kill People

Today's front page of the NYT offers a horrifying story that layoffs can kill. 3 relatively young men died of sudden heart attacks within weeks of one another after learning that their employer, the steel mills in Lackawanna, NY, was closing.

Studies show that anxiety about the prospect of being laid off might even be more damaging than actually being laid off. Life expectancy is shortened significantly.

It disgusts me that all we hear about in America is "maximizing shareholder value" and "higher productivity." There are so few stories about the psychological and physical torment of the worker in these horrible times where hiring is nowhere in sight. The only place I ever see a story like this is in the New York Times. At least I can look forward to a world where investigative reporting is no longer done so I can simply concern myself with iPhone Apps and "Jersey Shore" and not the plight of my fellow human beings. Enough ranting. Here are the studies cited in the article:

A growing body of research suggests that layoffs can have profound health consequences. One 2006 study by a group of epidemiologists at Yale found that layoffs more than doubled the risk of heart attack and stroke among older workers. Another paper, published last year by Kate W. Strully, a sociology professor at the State University of New York at Albany, found that a person who lost a job had an 83 percent greater chance of developing a stress-related health problem, like diabetes, arthritis or psychiatric issues.

In perhaps the most sobering finding, a study published last year found that layoffs can affect life expectancy. The paper, by Till von Wachter, a Columbia University economist, and Daniel G. Sullivan, director of research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, examined death records and earnings data in Pennsylvania during the recession of the early 1980s and concluded that death rates among high-seniority male workers jumped by 50 percent to 100 percent in the year after a job loss, depending on the worker’s age. Even 20 years later, deaths were 10 percent to 15 percent higher. That meant a worker who lost his job at age 40 had his life expectancy cut by a year to a year and half.

A 2009 study led by Sarah A. Burgard, a professor of sociology and epidemiology at the University of Michigan, found that “persistent perceived job insecurity” was itself a powerful predictor of poor health and might even be more damaging than actual job loss.

By the time health care reform is passed, everyone will be dead.

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