How the Unemployed Spend Their Days

by | May 11, 2015

If you’re presently working 40 or more hours a week, and are possibly part of the population paying taxes to the federal government, you might want to think about where those tax dollars are actually going — and what the people obtaining those tax dollars are quite often doing (or not doing) with their time.

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When a family member financially supports an unemployed loved one, the family member will often say things like: “He’s not even looking for a job. I’m providing for his basic expenses — and then some — and I don’t see him treating the search for a job seriously.”

I can’t tell you how often I have heard people say this in counseling sessions, over the years.

In light of that, it’s interesting to learn of statistics provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The BLS conducts a study called the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) which tracks how Americans spend their time doing various activities during a given day.

While only 18.9 percent of the unemployed said they spent time during the previous day in job-search and interviewing activities on an average day, the survey shows that when someone was looking for a job they spent an average of only 2.48 hours of the day doing so.

When you’re seriously looking for a job, you don’t spend a quarter of the workday doing so; you spend at least a full workday, a full 8 hours, right?

Yet the federal government is evidently discovering what family members already know: When you pay somebody not to work, and you do everything to aid them in that task of not working, in most cases their efforts at obtaining employment will be half-hearted, at best.

Of course, this is not always true. But it’s often true and — if the government’s own research is to be believed — it’s normally the case.

It makes sense, if you think about it. Looking for a job, and exposing oneself to the emotions of vulnerability and discomfort typically involved in that activity, is something that a lot of people probably want to avoid. And if you’re not suffering any major threat or consequence from this negligence, then why not avoid it?

Of course, some people are unemployed because of their own flaws, errors and evasions; and some are not. Morally — and as a result, politically — we tend to think of them in one big group. Everyone who’s unemployed is a victim, we assume. A victim of what or whom, exactly? That’s never considered. It’s considered impolite or callous to even consider the question, in most cases.

A lot of people will say it’s advancing a vicious stereotype to claim that people who aren’t working aren’t even trying. But then how do you respond to this actual research?

The study goes on to report:

An unemployed person — on the average day — was more likely to spend time on shopping, sports and recreation, socializing and leisure, than they were searching for and interviewing for a new job, according to BLS.

According to BLS, 96.7 percent of the unemployed spent time during the average day participating in “socializing, relaxing, and leisure” activities and spent, on average, 5.93 hours on those activities — or more than twice the number of hours they spent job searching.

Only 71.9 percent of the unemployed washed, dressed and groomed themselves on the average day, according to BLS. That means that 28.1 percent of the unemployed did not wash, dress and groom themselves on the average day.

Nearly all of the unemployed — 99.9 percent — reported sleeping on an average day. On average, they dedicated 9.24 hours to that activity.

Maybe these people are depressed. That seems like a statement of the obvious. But what does psychology actually define “depression” as, beyond the obvious symptoms? A lot of people don’t know that the definition of depression is “learned helplessness.” Depression refers to a distorted emotional state in which a person feels helpless, but actually is not so; a state in which the person feels that things are more negative and futile than they really are, assuming they are at all.

The best way to foster and make permanent — as a “new normal” — a state of depression is to insulate people from reality and give them rational incentives to stay the way they are. Therapists and a lot of family members already know this. The federal government — despite its research in this area — does not, or at least chooses to ignore it when expanding “social insurance” programs by the trillions, by the minute.

We’ve all heard the term “enabling.” Enabling, in this context, refers to subsidizing self-negligence.

My heart really does go out to people — the minority, according to this research — who struggle to find employment for themselves, and who spend the equivalent of full-time weeks in the attempt to do so. It’s admittedly not an employee’s market, not in much of the country, not anymore. It’s an employer’s market, because the government has imposed so many controls, taxes and regulations on the private sector that the private sector has not been able to deliver the job choices it otherwise would have.

To this extent, honest and decent people are victims, although not for the reasons commonly acknowledged. People are trained — like seals, or classically conditioned dogs — to detest the sight of productive business, blaming business for all that ails us, when it’s actually the government undermining and keeping business from doing, based on self-interest and profit, all that it might otherwise do to create jobs and lift the standard of living for all. Without business, and all that business implies, there are no jobs — and no people to pay for the entitlements provided for the unemployed who shop, sleep, and relax.

But if you’re presently working 40 or more hours a week, and are possibly part of the population paying taxes to the federal government, you might want to think about where those tax dollars are actually going — and what the people obtaining those tax dollars are quite often doing (or not doing) with their time.

Dr. Michael Hurd is a psychotherapist, columnist and author of "Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference)" and "Grow Up America!" Visit his website at: www.DrHurd.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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