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Today’s Health Hazard: Job Insecurity

• March 19, 2010 • 1:21 PM

More data comes in proving that, for American workers, specifically the older ones, job insecurity is bad for your health.

With a final vote on health care slated for this weekend, reform has never been closer. But as legislators weigh in on the health care bill this Sunday, they may want to keep in mind the lurking variable undermining health in America today. We’re not talking about agricultural subsidies, junk food advertising or racism.

In the words of Bill Clinton, “It’s the economy, stupid!”

The connection between job loss and poor health has been well documented; some researchers estimate that a worker displaced at age 40 will have a loss in life expectancy of 1 to 1.5 years. It appears that even the threat of losing your job can decrease your overall health because chronic stress can increase your susceptibility to disease.

A new study from the Gerontological Society of America suggests that job insecurity is a very real health hazard for people over 50, but one that manifests itself in different ways. While downsizing and demotions affect men’s physical health, they manifest themselves psychologically in women.

A team of researchers led by Ariel Kalil studied approximately 200 residents of Cook County, Ill., ages 50 to 67. They defined “job insecurity” as having experienced being disciplined, a demotion, downsizing or reorganization at work.

The researchers found that job insecurity did not affect all individuals equally. After two years, men who had experienced it had lower self-reported health. They also had higher blood pressure and epinephrine levels. But under the same conditions, women displayed more hostility, loneliness and symptoms of depression.

As Kalil, a professor at the University of Chicago, observed, “Older adults in the United States are living longer and working harder. Increased exposure to the labor market brings increased exposure to employment challenges.”

With 70 percent of U.S. working adults between 45 and 74 planning to work during retirement or forgo retirement altogether, older workers constitute a very large proportion of the labor market. But as Miller-McCune’s Tom Jacobs writes, “The current economic climate may very well be eroding months or even years from the lives of those on the bleeding edge of insecurity.”

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Elisabeth Best
Former Miller-McCune Fellow Elisabeth Best is currently pursuing a Masters of Pacific International Affairs at the University of California, San Diego School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, where she is the editor in chief of the Journal of International Policy Solutions. She graduated from UC Santa Barbara in June 2009 with a BA in global studies and a minor in professional editing. As an undergraduate, she wrote for The GW Hatchet and Coastlines magazine and hosted “The Backseat” on WRGW.

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