Building a Bridge to a Brighter Future for Unemployed Adults

By Michael F. Campbell, Lindsay M. Andrews, and Emily E. Bullock

Concerns of the Unemployed


Many uncertainties exist when an individual begins the job search process. Often uncertainties about the future arise, leading to impaired structure to an individual’s day as well as daily activities (Paul, Geithner, & Moser, 2009). Additionally, shaming experiences, such as being spoken to disparagingly, occur frequently for the unemployed. These experiences may lead to reduced social contact and impaired collective purpose (Paul et al., 2009). Unemployment has been linked to lower levels of well being and life satisfaction, as well as increased stress, psychological distress (Meeus, Dekovic, & Iedema, 1997), and depression (Paul et al., 2009). Especially for older adults, the effects of unemployment may lead to increased concerns due to familial and financial obligations (Meeus et al., 1997).


To deal with the presenting concerns, many unemployed individuals consider taking on temporary or multiple part-time jobs. However, uncertainty impacting one’s employability becomes a concern as both positive and negative perspectives are endorsed in regards to temporary employment by both workers and employers (e.g., need for training or retraining due to a steadily changing workforce, a continual development of skills, knowledge, and flexibility).


Barriers to Unemployed Individuals


When examining barriers to further career development in unemployed adults, age and education appear to affect an individual’s well-being and time unemployed. For example, individuals age 40 and older tended to remain unemployed twice as long as younger individuals (Mallinckrodt & Fretz, 1988). In terms of education, individuals with lower levels of academic accomplishments were found to be more likely to be long-term unemployed (Margit, Vondracek, Capaldi, & Porfeli, 2003). Additionally, several factors, including self-esteem, economic difficulties (Kokko & Pulkkinen, 1998), and perceived social support (Mallinckrodt & Fretz, 1988) influenced individuals’ psychological distress when unemployed. Specifically, psychological distress (e.g., depressive symptoms, anxiety, physical health complaints) was found to be greater in individuals who were long-term unemployed (Kokko & Pulkkinen, 1998).


Providing Assistance to Job Seekers


Researchers lack comprehensive understanding of unemployed adults’ career development. Research conducted by the co-authors, found unemployed individuals in our local community to be a demographically diverse group. These unemployed clients stated a much greater interest in Realistic interests (e.g., possessing mechanical and athletic abilities, working outdoors, interacting with things rather than people) than did college students. In terms of career thinking, unemployed individuals had more total negative career thoughts and decision-making confusion (i.e., inability to initiate or sustain decision making due to disabling emotions or a lack of understanding about decision making) than college students. Yet, college students and unemployed adults did not differ in their level of career decision self-efficacy (Bullock, Andrews, & Campbell, 2010). We must consider how we will counsel unemployed adults differently due to their diversity and differences from the well-understood career development of college students.


Intervention Ideas 



Individuals presenting for career assistance, especially those identifying as unemployed, possess several concerns and barriers to the process. The unemployed are a diverse group of individuals ranging vastly in demographic variables (e.g., age, gender, race). When working with unemployed individuals, negative career thinking should be assessed and challenged prior to progressing further in the job search process.



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Michael F. Campbell is a master's student in the Counseling Psychology program at the University of Southern Mississippi.  His research interests include vocational psychology and career counseling, and he is a part of the Vocational Psychology research team at USM. He can reached at element3112008@yahoo.com 

Lindsay Andrews is a doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology program at The University of Southern Mississippi. Her research interests include career development of college students as well as diverse populations. Additionally, she has experience teaching career development to undergraduate students.

Emily Bullock Yowell, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of counseling psychology at the University of Southern Mississippi.  Her research, clinical training, and teaching focuses on vocational psychology and career counseling.  She can be contacted at Emily.Yowell@usm.edu or through her website, http://ocean.otr.usm.edu/~w313873/.

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