Why 2020 may have broken the stigma of unemployment for Millennials

The latest Labour Market Statistics show the UK now has 1.6 million people unemployed and an unemployment rate of 4.8%.

The number of people unemployed increased by 240,000 and the unemployment rate increased 0.7 percentage points since last April-June. These are the largest quarter on quarter increases since 2009, the last time the UK was in the grips of the Great Recession.

Of the 240,000 people that became unemployed, over two in five were under 35. A total of 110,000 people. This is the largest quarter on quarter change for this age group in just under a decade. As a result, the beginning of Lockdown brought with it an unprecedented increase of 395,000 under 35’s needing help from the UK’s out-of-work benefits lifeline.

You don’t need me to tell you that 2020 has been one of the most tumultuous years in recent history. Everything has changed and, whilst many of these changes have been destabilising and unpleasant, what may have changed for the better over the last year, is our mindset.

Besides our cultural consciousness exploding as a result of Black Lives Matter and our awareness of the haves and have-nots of society only sharpening, one of the paradigm shifting effects of this year may be the way we view unemployment.

Whilst this is a hard time for many, one positive is that the way we think about these issues may genuinely have shifted. New research by Linkedin shows that the level of stigma attached to redundancy is on the decline.

Their research found that almost 7 in 10 respondents feel there is now less stigma attached to redundancy as a result of Covid-19’s impact on the jobs market. This rings even more true for millennials (where 76% agree), many of whom have been hit particularly hard by the impact of coronavirus.

In fact, 26% of respondents claim they used to judge or look down on people out of work – with 23% thinking they were lazy – before being made redundant themselves. Now 3 in 5 agree they have more empathy for those unemployed, after going through the same thing too.

“Our research demonstrates that Covid-19 lay-offs have contributed to a significant de-stigmatisation of unemployment,” says Emily Spaven, UK Editor of LinkedIn News, “Furthermore, it shows that while redundancy remains a difficult and destabilising experience – stripping away shame means we are more likely to reach out to others, ultimately helping us to get back on our feet.”

Thanks to more transparency around unemployment, there is, indeed, an increased chance that people will reach out for help – in turn enhancing their chances of building and utilising their existing networks to find new work. The survey showed that those who were made redundant due to Covid-19 are three times more likely to ask for help and lean on their network (33%) compared to those out of work pre-pandemic (9%). Now; 3 million LinkedIn members openly show they are looking for work since June with the #OpentoWork tool.

Increased openness around the issue of unemployment goes a long way to not only cracking the stigma around it, but enhances the chances of many getting the support they need.

“Unemployment locks people out of opportunities and can trap them in financial hardship. We know from speaking people living in poverty that it takes its toll on their mental health and increases your likelihood of experiencing anxiety and depression,” explains Katie Schmuecker, Deputy Director of Policy Partnerships at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, an independent social change organisation working to solve UK poverty, “We have been exploring -alongside The Poverty Truth Community in Scotland in particular- the links between poverty, debt and poor mental health, mainly as a result of people’s experience of Universal Credit and the stigma that goes with it.”

Katie emphasises it will be especially hard on those made redundant this year when it comes to finding new work.

“The uncertainty of the pandemic places even greater pressure on people who lose their jobs, and the ongoing economic uncertainty will hit young workers especially hard,” she says, “In the long term we are deeply concerned about the scarring effect this could have on young peoples’ futures. Being unemployed early in your career can restrict your future career prospects and there is evidence to show they earn less compared to people who have not been out of work.”

Yet Katie is also hopeful that our shifting mindsets may prove beneficial.

“We are seeing growing public concern about poverty and inequality in our society. Even before the pandemic, we were starting to see more people expressing concerns about the effectiveness of our social security system. As significantly more people turn to it for the first time, we are hopeful calls for us to invest properly in this vital public service will grow,” she says, “During these unprecedented times, the Government has taken many welcome steps to support families. We must not undo the progress that has been made and harness the huge amount of compassion that we have been showing one another in recent months as a force for good in the future. There should be no stigma associated with struggling to make ends meet.”

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