From the TUC

Of course unemployed people aren’t having a good time

01 Dec 2011, by in Labour market

Today’s well-being statistics show that most people are reasonably satisfied with their lives, with an average score for overall life satisfactiohn of 7.4. But there is a big difference in outcomes, depending on whether or not you’re unemployed. Here’s the headline results, based on answers to the question “overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?”:

  Life satisfaction
In employment 7.5
Economically inactive 7.4
Unemployed 6.3

The other questions in the survey produced the same gradient. Asked to give a score in the range 0 – 10, the question “Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwile?” produced these results:

In employment 7.8
Economically inactive 7.4
Unemployed 7.0

“Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?”:

  Happy yesterday
In employment 7.5
Economically inactive 7.4
Unemployed 6.8

“Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?”:

  Anxious yesterday
In employment 3.3
Economically inactive 3.5
Unemployed 4.0

(This last result is not statistically significant at the 5% level, and so should be treated with caution.)

None of this should surprise anyone, of course, but it demolishes the main claim of the people who argue that unemployed people are lazy, shirking work and so forth. These figures mean that if unemployment is a choice, then unemployed people are deliberately choosing to be unhappy.

In economic terms, the argument sometimes runs that unemployed people are choosing “leisure” over work because that choice is subsidised by benefits. These figures prove that unemployment isn’t “leisure”, which is a good thing, but its opposite (in economics-speak a “disutility”).

Of course, things are a bit less clear-cut than any simple description of these results suggests. These figures are averages, and the experience of unemployed people varies a great deal. There will be some people who aren’t particularly disatisfied with unemployment, which is one reason why even a progressive unemployment benefit system would need to protect itself against abuse.

But the averages show that most unemployed people (indeed, given the size of the difference, probably a large majority of unemployed people) find that being unemployed makes them unhappy and anxious and are extremely unlikely to be avoiding work.

One Response to Of course unemployed people aren’t having a good time

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