Among politicians and others in the the lines of the employed – those who have not been laid off in this abysmal recession or in others - there’s an insidious belief that the reason someone remains unemployed is because s/he’s lazy.
The thinking goes – if they were really trying to get jobs they’d have one, but instead they’re enjoying being at home with their feet up, eating bon-bons and living off unemployment benefits.
Part of it is the all too common practice of blaming the victim. The unconscious thinking pattern goes like this: If the situation is the victim’s fault, then it won’t happen to me. In other words, Employed Doe can feel both safe and superior by believing “Even if I were to be laid off – which wouldn’t happen because I’m a top performer – I’d get a job quickly because I would really look for one, unlike the unemployed people who are lazy.”
This thinking ignores or denies:
- There are 5 unemployed people for every job opening
- The recession that began in 2007 has led to the worst unemployment in nearly 30 years.
- There are record levels of long-term unemployment.
- The 9.6 % jobless rate has been essentially unchanged since May.
Perception – We See What We Want Or Expect To See
What people perceive as truth comes from assumptions and preconceptions. Perhaps you were told growing up that Susie could have a job but she likes not working (lazy) and collecting unemployment. That can set the stage for you to generalize the statement about Susie to the ranks of all the unemployed. But like all generalizations they only contain a kernel of truth.
When the human tendencies:
- of blaming the victim
- of wanting to feel safe and superior
- of incorrect assumptions
- of gross generalizations
becomes scary is when the people who are in a position of control, in this case those who determine whether unemployed benefits should be extended, hold these underlying beliefs and aren’t even aware of it.
We talk about transparency in the government and in corporations but not enough times with individuals…with ourselves. It’s important to surface and recognize the assumptions underlying our thinking. Otherwise we never see the fallacious reasoning; the inaccuracies in our assumptions; and our biases.
For instance, I need to be conscious of the fact that my thinking about the unemployed could be affected by knowing some people when I was younger who did take advantage of unemployment benefits. I have to be careful that I don’t generalize about today’s ranks of the unemployed (approximately 14.8 million people) based on a couple of people or based on a different time and an entire set of different circumstances.
Federal benefits average $290 a week or $15,080/year, about half of what the typical family spends on basics. Who can take care of their family on that – their rent or mortgage, insurances, clothes, car and food etc.? For that matter, who wants to stand in line and deal with the bureaucracy if you don’t have to?
What makes people who are making 5, 10, 20 times the average unemployment benefits amount think that people are reveling and slothfully enjoying themselves on that meager amount? What are their underlying belief systems about people in a different income bracket or life situation? How can they become aware of their paradigms and perceptions?
If fairness, there are also misconceptions, biases and assumptions about people who are wealthy. Recognizing our paradigms expands our thinking. We become more open-minded and better problem solvers. In today’s difficult economic environment, we need to think about our thinking more than ever. What are some of your paradigms?