What Unemployed People Do With Their Time

Photographed by Claire Pepper.
Last September, after I got fired from what was painfully close to being my dream job, I was gripped by aimlessness, malaise, and more than a little self-loathing. I imagined myself jobless, penniless, and miserable for the rest of my days. Then, I decided to seize this less-than-shining, underemployed moment to pursue my dream of writing full-time (in my case, as a freelance culture, news, and lifestyle journalist).
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Though I was nervous about taking the leap into a profession that’s notoriously competitive and unlucrative, I felt ready to try something new: to work from home on projects of my choosing, without a Big Boss breathing down my neck. I’m lucky to be semi-successful at the freelance thing, because losing or eschewing a traditional job doesn’t always unfold so smoothly for everyone, millennials included.
Traditional jobs can be hard to come by for millennials — who are shaping up to be the most educated generation in history (but not the most employed; in 2014, 9.1 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds were unemployed). While the job market is picking up for many, that uptick isn’t necessarily helping millennials, for whom job security has been rocky throughout most of their adult lives. As Andrew Hanson, research analyst at Georgetown University, said back in July, “Young people are the first to be let go by companies in a recession and the last to be let back in.” As of July 2014, millennials made up a whopping 40 percent of America’s jobless masses (that equates to 4.6 million people, in case you’re curious).
As usual, the statistics for women lead to a more complicated narrative. For women 25 to 54, unemployment is 30%. The number of working women has climbed overall during the later part of the 20th century, but those numbers have been sinking since 2000, partially due to economic trends, but also to a recent rise in stay-at-home parenting. (Notably, in wealthier areas, like the Salt Lake City suburbs and the Upper East Side of New York City, rates of women working are lower than in other US regions.) Rates of female unemployment are also higher in more rural and poverty-stricken regions, of course, like the Deep South, Appalachia, Northern Michigan, and various locations in the middle of the country. (Education, or lack thereof, plays a major part.)
Photographed by Bek Andersen.
Plenty of American men are jobless, too (in November, 5.4 percent of men over the age of 20). Unemployed guys, reports The New York Times, work out less and feel that they have worse relationships with their families than when they were members of a workforce. Women, on the other hand, are “more likely to say that their health and their relationships with friends and family have improved since they stopped working.”
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Maybe that’s because, according to this New York Times interactive that documents the average daily activities of 147 unemployed men and women aged 25-54, females tend to spend a lot more time doing housework and “caring for others” than their unemployed dude counterparts; women spend a whopping six hours on both, while men spend less than three each.
And though plenty of unemployed people spend a sizable part of their day job-hunting, plenty of others seem to, well, futz around. They tend to sleep more than their working peers (slightly more than an additional hour), and devote much more time to entertainment like TV and movies — especially the men. Out of the 65 people who spent more of their day watching movies and TV than doing anything else, 46 were men; only 19 were women. And both men and women sans jobs “spend about 1.5 times as much time socializing as the average employed person.”
The day-to-day lifestyles of the thousands of Americans eschewing traditional 9-5 workplaces — either by choice or necessity — look dramatically different from those with “normal” jobs, indeed. But as more millennials struggle to find and hold onto jobs in a competitive, overcrowded market, it seems likely that their everyday habits will be forced to evolve, whether that includes six hours of TV, socializing, traveling, care-taking or...something else altogether.
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