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Unemployed men outside a soup kitchen in Depression-era Chicago, Illinois, the US, 1931

Unemployment (or joblessness) occurs when people are without work and actively seeking work. The unemployment rate is a measure of the prevalence of unemployment and it is calculated as a percentage by dividing the number of unemployed individuals by all individuals currently in the labor force. During periods of recession, an economy usually experiences a relatively high unemployment rate.


  • When a great many people are unable to find work, unemployment results.
    • Attributed to Calvin Coolidge, in Stanley Walker, City Editor (1934), p. 131. Reported as unverified in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989).
  • Production is carried on for profit, not for use. There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an “army of unemployed” almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job. Since unemployed and poorly paid workers do not provide a profitable market, the production of consumers' goods is restricted, and great hardship is the consequence. Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all. The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for an instability in the accumulation and utilization of capital which leads to increasingly severe depressions. Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labor, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals.
  • In this paper we examine whether unemployment has a differential impact on the expression of psychological distress among men and women. Based on the traditional centrality of the work role to men and the family role to women, we defined several key domains that might affect unemployed men and women differentially: family circumstances, concerns and worries about children and family; coping responses; social support and social integration; and the centrality of the work role. While the study population either were or hoped to be in the labor force and had dependent children, they varied in their marital status and whether they were the custodial parent. Using data collected in Baltimore from those who had been unemployed but had returned to work, those who had remained continuously unemployed for a year, and those who had been continuously employed, we compared the patterns of men's and women's reactions to unemployment. The important differences in psychological symptoms in this population were related to employment status, problems with parenting, financial difficulties, perceived lack of social support, hostility, and feelings about unemployment. By and large, the patterns of these relationships were similar for men and women. These findings suggest that when gender differences in psychological distress are found they may be due to differences in role configurations of men and women rather than intrinsic gender differences.
  • Unemployment, of course, sends the economy into a recession, creating more unemployment. Ironically, unemployment hurts women more than men. Feminists argue that’s because of sex discrimination: women are the last to be hired and the first to be fired. Correct on the outcome; wrong on the reason. We hire first what we need most, and we fire first what we need least. That’s why you hire the garbage collector first, and fire him last. Men may be hired first and fired last because more men are willing to do society’s dirty work and hazardous work for a lower price.
  • But the time will come when New England will be as thickly peopled as old EnglandWages will be as low, and will fluctuate as much with you as with us.  You will have your Manchesters and Birminghams; and, in those Manchesters and Birminghams, hundreds of thousands of artisans will assuredly be sometimes out of work.  Then your institutions will be fairly brought to the test.
    • Thomas Babington Macaulay, letter to Henry Stephens Randall (May 23, 1857); in Thomas Pinney, ed., The Letters of Thomas Babington Macaulay (1981), vol. 6, p. 95. Pinney notes that the letter "was published in part as early as 1860 and has frequently been reprinted since", but deems a February 1877 publication in Harper's Magazine as "the place of first full publication so far as I have been able to determine".
  • The more education, the less unemployment of women; this relationship is as strong as it is in the male labor force. The channel through which this relation arises is also the same, namely, labor turnover, almost half of which involves unemployment. However, the relation between education and turnover is mediated largely by educational differences in on-the-job training among men, while educational differences in labor force attachment are the main source of turnover differences among women. This is because levels of educational differences in on-the-job (in-house) training are small among women, while nonparticipation in the labor market and educational differences in it are quite small among men. Educational differences in the duration of unemployment are negligible among women, though they are observable, if small, among men. Recent growth in women's work attachment has reduced their inter-labor force turnover and their unemployment rate to the point of eliminating the sex differential. On-the-job training of women appears to have increased, though it still remains skimpy
  • Throughout the Keynesian and post-Keynesian era, the inexorable laws of economics have not changed.  Unemployment still is, and always has been, a cost phenomenon.  A worker whose employ ment adds valuable output and is profitable to his employer can always find a job.  A worker whose employment inflicts losses is destined to be unemployed.  As long as the earth is no paradise, there is an infinite amount of work to be done.  But if a worker produces only $2 per hour, while the government decrees a minimum wage of $2.30 an hour plus sizable fringe costs, he cannot be employed.  For a businessman to hire him would mean capital loss and waste.  In other words, any compulsion, be it by government or union, to raise labor costs above those determined by the marginal productivity of labor, creates institutional unemployment.
    • Hans Sennholz, "Unemployment Is Rising," The Freeman: A Monthly Journal of Ideas on Liberty (Irvington-on-Hudson, N. Y.: Foundation for Economic Education, 1 July 1977), p. 390.

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