Title

The absence of “occupational beings” in definitions of long-term unemployment: Opportunities for knowledge translation

Location

New River Room B

Start Time

2-10-2015 9:00 AM

End Time

2-10-2015 11:00 AM

Session Type

Research Paper

Abstract

Policy responses to long-term unemployment are often based on a range of ‘official’ definitions that address: 1) the duration of joblessness, 2) expected activity engagement during joblessness, and 3) market factors that affect job availability (Blustein, Medvide, & Wan, 2012). In the United States, long-term unemployment is defined as being without work for 27 weeks or more (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014), and policies mandate that long-term unemployed people actively search for work if they want to receive government-funded assistance and retraining. Predicating social assistance on a range of definitions may appear to account for the varied circumstances surrounding joblessness; however, such definitions are often operationalized in ways that restrict benefits (Lipsky, 2010) and ignore people’s diverse everyday needs.

In this presentation, we draw on findings from two of our studies to illustrate how ‘official’ definitions fail to incorporate an understanding of unemployed workers as occupational beings. Using a collaborative ethnographic orientation (Lassiter & Campbell, 2010), both studies aim to understand how political discourses shape policies, social assistance programs, and everyday responses to long-term unemployment. The first study utilized semi-structured interviews and observations to understand the experiences of eight self-identified long-term unemployed workers in the United States and Canada. The second study is currently ongoing and has used semi-structured interviews to understand the perspectives of 12 stakeholders at employment-focused organizations in the United States and Canada.

Two key findings illustrate why it is important to include an occupational perspective in policy-related ‘official’ definitions. The first finding, based on an analysis of interviews with unemployed workers, suggests that the feeling of “being stuck” is: 1) central to the experience of long-term unemployment, 2) pervades most occupational pursuits during unemployment, and 3) is related to the occupation of seeking resources (Magasi, 2012) for personal and family survival. The second finding, drawn from an analysis of interviews with organizational stakeholders, is that service delivery representatives tend to depart from static ‘official’ definitions and instead operationalize more variegated experience-based definitions that recognize the centrality of resource seeking in long-term unemployed workers’ lives.

Our discussion aims to answer the question: How does the recognition of “resource seeking” as an occupation fit with prevailing “activity expectations” and discourses about the “right” way to spend time during joblessness? We suggest that an occupational perspective attends to long-term unemployed workers’ extensive resource seeking practices and unsettles current definitions that dictate the provision of social assistance. Accordingly, we propose the necessity of translating an occupational perspective to policymaking and service provision arenas to fully address the needs of people experiencing long-term unemployment.

Key words: long-term unemployment, knowledge translation, occupational perspective

Objectives for discussion period:

  1. Discuss the ways in which political policies and programs are or are not designed to accommodate the complexity of everyday life.
  2. Discuss how resource seeking aligns with existing definitions and categories of occupation.
  3. Discuss facilitators and barriers to translating the occupational perspective to policymakers and other professionals.

References

Blustein, D. L., Medvide, M. B., & Wan, C. M. (2012). A critical perspective of contemporary unemployment policy and practices. Journal of Career Development, 39(4), 341-356. doi: 10.1177/0894845310397545

Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2014). Labor force characteristics – displaced workers. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/cps/lfcharacteristics.htm#displaced

Lassiter, L. E., & Campbell, E. (2010). What will we have ethnography do? Qualitative Inquiry, 16(9), 757-767.

Lipsky, M. (1980/2010). Street-level bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the individual in public services. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Magasi, S. (2012). Negotiating the social service systems: A vital yet frequently invisible occupation. OTJR: Occupation, Participation, and Health, 32(1), S25-S33.

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Oct 2nd, 9:00 AM Oct 2nd, 11:00 AM

The absence of “occupational beings” in definitions of long-term unemployment: Opportunities for knowledge translation

New River Room B

Policy responses to long-term unemployment are often based on a range of ‘official’ definitions that address: 1) the duration of joblessness, 2) expected activity engagement during joblessness, and 3) market factors that affect job availability (Blustein, Medvide, & Wan, 2012). In the United States, long-term unemployment is defined as being without work for 27 weeks or more (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014), and policies mandate that long-term unemployed people actively search for work if they want to receive government-funded assistance and retraining. Predicating social assistance on a range of definitions may appear to account for the varied circumstances surrounding joblessness; however, such definitions are often operationalized in ways that restrict benefits (Lipsky, 2010) and ignore people’s diverse everyday needs.

In this presentation, we draw on findings from two of our studies to illustrate how ‘official’ definitions fail to incorporate an understanding of unemployed workers as occupational beings. Using a collaborative ethnographic orientation (Lassiter & Campbell, 2010), both studies aim to understand how political discourses shape policies, social assistance programs, and everyday responses to long-term unemployment. The first study utilized semi-structured interviews and observations to understand the experiences of eight self-identified long-term unemployed workers in the United States and Canada. The second study is currently ongoing and has used semi-structured interviews to understand the perspectives of 12 stakeholders at employment-focused organizations in the United States and Canada.

Two key findings illustrate why it is important to include an occupational perspective in policy-related ‘official’ definitions. The first finding, based on an analysis of interviews with unemployed workers, suggests that the feeling of “being stuck” is: 1) central to the experience of long-term unemployment, 2) pervades most occupational pursuits during unemployment, and 3) is related to the occupation of seeking resources (Magasi, 2012) for personal and family survival. The second finding, drawn from an analysis of interviews with organizational stakeholders, is that service delivery representatives tend to depart from static ‘official’ definitions and instead operationalize more variegated experience-based definitions that recognize the centrality of resource seeking in long-term unemployed workers’ lives.

Our discussion aims to answer the question: How does the recognition of “resource seeking” as an occupation fit with prevailing “activity expectations” and discourses about the “right” way to spend time during joblessness? We suggest that an occupational perspective attends to long-term unemployed workers’ extensive resource seeking practices and unsettles current definitions that dictate the provision of social assistance. Accordingly, we propose the necessity of translating an occupational perspective to policymaking and service provision arenas to fully address the needs of people experiencing long-term unemployment.

Key words: long-term unemployment, knowledge translation, occupational perspective

Objectives for discussion period:

  1. Discuss the ways in which political policies and programs are or are not designed to accommodate the complexity of everyday life.
  2. Discuss how resource seeking aligns with existing definitions and categories of occupation.
  3. Discuss facilitators and barriers to translating the occupational perspective to policymakers and other professionals.