1 This book surveys the trajectories of the unemployed in the United States, from their dismissal to their return to employment. It fills a gap in the literature by showing that these trajectories are constructed by gender and social class. Based on narratives drawn from 100 interviews conducted between 2013 and 2015 with men and women who had just lost full-time jobs and were receiving unemployment benefits from the State of Pennsylvania, the author meticulously dissects the mechanisms of accumulation of advantages/disadvantages that differentiate various individuals’ experiences of unemployment. Damaske helps us to understand why for some individuals unemployment is an interlude that enables them to take time for themselves, whereas for others it marks the entry into poverty and poor health.
2 She shows that this differentiation begins with the accentuation of economic inequalities. The previous incomes of more affluent workers result in higher savings and unemployment benefits (as well as severance pay for men), which together limit the effects of job loss on household budgets and lifestyles. Women, in contrast to men, often feel guilty about losing their job and respond in two ways: by increasing the time they spend on domestic work and by sacrificing their health to put the needs of their families first. This is what Damaske calls the ‘guilt gap’. This is one of the most interesting results of the study, which runs against the idea that unemployment is primarily a male challenge.
3 Together, these elements differentiate the phase of return to employment. Men in the middle and upper classes allow themselves a break before looking for a job, while women immediately start the search, following a set timetable. In the working classes, while financial urgency drives men into an immediate, desperate quest for employment, domestic responsibilities and the work of managing poverty deprive women of the time they need to effectively seek employment. One year after their first interview, only men in the middle and upper classes succeed in returning to jobs with equivalent prestige and pay. Working-class individuals, on the other hand, generally either have not found a job or have found one with lower pay and prestige. Damaske reveals the high levels of self-blame that women who lose their jobs inflict on themselves, leading them to put their family’s needs before their own, sacrifice their health, and take on more domestic tasks. This ‘guilt gap’ illustrates how unemployment too often exacerbates existing differences between men and women.
4 Through in-depth analyses of the trajectories of individuals with a variety of profiles, corroborated by statistical analyses, Damaske provides us with fascinating insights into unemployment as a process that structures all areas of the social lives of individuals and that exacerbates gender and class inequalities well beyond the period of unemployment itself.