In recent years workers in the United States have become increasingly vulnerable to spells of long-term unemployment, which are often accompanied by self-devaluation and the internalization of stigma. The existing literature consistently finds that dominant self-help career support institutions activate individualistic cultural narratives that obscure the shared and structural determinants of career challenges and often intensify the self-stigmatization and emotional toll of long-term unemployment. This paper examines an alternative approach to support based on sociologically-informed discourses and practices. Drawing on in-depth interviews of long-term unemployed white-collar workers who received such support we explore whether and how sociologically-informed support practices can reduce self-stigmatization and help workers confront the challenges posed by long-term unemployment. We show that self-stigmatization is not an inevitable outcome of unemployment in the American cultural context, and that the application of a sociologically-informed approach to support can activate narratives focused on the shared and structural roots of unemployment. The activation of such narratives counteracts the debilitating internalization of stigma and generates what we call a “re-valuation” of the self. Beyond long-term unemployment, the findings in this paper suggest broader benefits to American workers from institutions that foster a sociological imagination for contextualizing employment-related challenges.
Transforming Workforce Development Policies for the 21st Century explores how new policies and practice can meet the changing needs of workers, businesses and their communities. Produced in partnership by the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta and Kansas City, and the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, this edited volume presents contributions from more than 65 leading scholars and practitioners engaged in workforce development.