Layoffs seen weakening community involvement

Even a single job layoff can have severe consequences for a worker’s involvement in community and social activities, says a study by sociologists at the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Michigan.

Workers who had experienced only one involuntary termination were 35 percent less likely to be involved in volunteer work, community groups and leisure activities, says the study, “Effects of Job Displacement on Social Participation: Findings over the Life Course of a Cohort of Joiners.”

And the impact of job displacement did not diminish over time, but permanently affected workers’ inclination to get involved.

“Social engagement often involves an element of social trust and a sense that things are reciprocal,” Jennie E. Brand, co-author of the study and assistant professor of sociology at UCLA, says in a statement. “When workers are displaced, the tendency is to feel as though the social contract has been violated.”

Of the six forms of involvement studied, youth and community organizations suffered the biggest loss as a result of layoffs, followed by church groups, charitable organizations and leisure activities.

Professional and political organizations were least likely to be affected by job displacement, possibly because displaced workers feel the need to make up lost ground in their careers and support political change to stabilize employment.

The effects of job displacement were strongest for workers ages 35 to 53.

Charities and social organizations could derive benefit from reaching out to displaced workers, while improving the workers’ chances of making contacts and finding employment.

“Whether citizens participate is important for the effective functioning of neighborhoods, schools, communities and democracies,” Brand says.

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