Tuesday, November 16, 2021
In the early days of the pandemic, the unemployment rate reached close to 15% , and the number of families that had at least one unemployed person doubled, to almost 10%. Those unemployment rates vary by race and gender: Black and Hispanic families were more likely to have one unemployed person than white or Asian families, and, several months into the pandemic, the US Census reported that women were more than twice as likely as men not to be working because of child care issues.
These statistics suggest profound impacts on the family. Enter sociologist Sarah Damaske’s new book, The Tolls of Uncertainty: How Privilege and the Guilt Gap Shape Unemployment in America (2021). The Tolls of Uncertainty explores the intersections between unemployment and family obligation through interviews with 100 people in urban and rural Pennsylvania. Damaske debunks various myths about the unemployed, such as that they are lazy or clearly differ from the employed, and shows that although men may face expectations to be the breadwinners, ”women appear to bear much higher levels of guilt and shame for losing their jobs.” (P. 14.) And the book proposes policies that support not just the unemployed but also their families.
The story of unemployment unfolds in the book’s three major sections, the first on losing a job, the second on the consequences, and the final section on the struggles people face in returning to work. Damaske began her research in 2012, just after the Great Recession, but during a time of economic growth. Although situated during a particular time period, the book offers enduring lessons about unemployment and the family, regardless of the national economic picture – and, as Damaske explained in a May 2021 New York Times article, the pandemic provides yet another example of how job loss affects men and women differently.
Read more here.