The Silver Linings of Joblessness: Aging Workers Finding Meaning in the Unemployment Experience

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 11:33
Oral Presentation
Annette NIEROBISZ, Carleton College, USA
Dana SAWCHUK, Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada
This paper investigates how a select group of workers – those age 50 and older who lost their job between 2007 and 2014 – find meaning in the unemployment experience. The study is situated against the backdrop of an unprecedented confluence of socio-economic conditions: a severe economic recession, followed by a long term jobless recovery; a collapsing housing market; a continued weakening of institutional protections for workers; and a growing aging population. The data informing this study are drawn from 62 in-depth interviews with White, middle- and upper-middle class workers residing within Minnesota’s greater Twin City region, Minneapolis/St. Paul. While interviewees share stories of increasing medical needs that must go neglected, shrinking retirement accounts, ageism in the labor market, and downward mobility, what is surprising is the number of interviewees who nonetheless emphasize the so-called “silver linings” of their job loss. In the stories interviewees share, job loss is often reframed in a variety of positive ways including: an opportunity for personal growth, the development of new career directions, and an emphasis on improved health. Our paper adds to the literature on how individuals make sense of the job loss experience and also addresses the theoretical and applied implications of our findings.