One of the most important scientific findings by sociologists is that people who lose their jobs during the prime of their careers end up also losing a lot of social capital (less involvement in their communities). Such a loss is tragic not only for those unintentionally unemployed, but for their communities and societies as well.

            In my last posting, I asked the question: “Where are the sociologists in a time of financial crisis?” I found a major study that shows the type of research that can be done by sociologists to help us evaluate the full impact of the current economic crisis.

            Jennie Brand, assistant professor of sociology at UCLA, earned her PhD at the University of Wisconsin and carefully analyzed data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study. In her article with Sarah Burgard, which was published in the September, 2008 issue of Social Forces, she confirmed that job loss produced major drops in social capital, that is, the ability to use ties to other people to help them and others function more effectively.

            Specifically, this loss of social capital meant that people displaced from their jobs in early or mid-career became less likely to be able to network to get another job, but also to get and give social support in general.

            Jennie Brand’s study involved workers during the period of 1975 to 2004, so it does not include those unemployed during the 2008 economic crisis. And it also was limited to high school graduates, but despite these limitations, the study gives very generalizable findings because it was based upon systematically following and re-surveying many people for many years.

            The crisis in community involvement is more sociological than psychological. It consists of changes in people’s inter-connectedness to other people. Think of it as rips in the social fabric.

            During the past year, 1.9 million Americans lost their jobs, with 533,000 losing them last month. That is the largest loss of jobs in any one month since 1974, according to the BLS report. The percent underemployed now is 12.5%. The underemployed are those who are unemployed or working part-time but seeking full-time work, but not including those unemployed but no longer looking for work. Another way of looking at the situation is that one in eight American workers is partly or fully displaced from their jobs.

            The principal conclusion from all of these data is that not only will the period ahead be one of financial crisis but one of social crisis as well.