Oh no! The “Lazy Jobless” Myth Again

By , January 5, 2011 4:43 am

Congratulations to President Obama and the U.S. Congress.  As the year ended, Congress enacted and the President signed a bill guaranteeing unemployment payments many months down the road.  This was difficult to achieve because of so much opposition in Congress.  A pole indicates that about 1/3 of the American population erroneously think that unemployment benefits discourage people from seeking jobs.

Why do so many ill-informed Americans consider unemployment benefits the cause of unemployment? Obviously, the right-wing television pundits fuel this and repeated endlessly in the struggle leading up to congressional action.  It is an utterly foolish notion.  With five applicants for every job opening, the overreaching problem is a lack of available positions not a lack of personal initiative.  David Sirota, writing in the Salon.com newsletter, points out that there are also deeper underlying causes that feed this constant and destructive myth.

Of course, there is what psychologists call the Just-World Fallacy.  This is where people believe that the world is inherently fair, that everyone who works hard can be a millionaire and that the unemployed deserve their plight.

In addition, Sirota holds that narcissism is also a factor.  Many in our society dehumanize the poor with expressions like “welfare queen” and “white trash.”  The myth of the “lazy unemployed” plays to that conceit and the still-employed look down at those who are not.  You remain in a job, says the myth, because you are better than the jobless.

Finally, there is fear.  With the labor market news downright frightening, the still-employed are understandably pining for a defense mechanism to cope with persistent layoff anxieties.  The myth of the “lazy unemployed” provides exactly that – a calming sensation of control.  The myth says “the jobless are out of work because they are generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities.”  Thus, their distress is of their own choosing.  Try telling that to the Detroit autoworkers.

For the last thirty years, the Catholic Church has been struggling to eliminate and lessen this myth.  It has made some progress but it is constantly re-invented.  The main purposes of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development is to sensitize the American population as to the economic forces that cause so many to be unemployed and thus so many to be poor.

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