Losing Your Job Can Make You Sick

Losing your job raises the odds you'll get sick, and not just to your stomach.

Facing a firing or layoff can increase the risk of developing a new health problem, such as hypertension, heart disease, heart attack, stroke or diabetes, a new study suggests.

In some cases, the odds of getting sick because of losing a job jump 50 to 80 percent.

The current economic downturn has left millions of Americans all too familiar with the impact of sudden unemployment. Unemployment now sits at 8.9 percent nationally, and 5.7 million jobs have been lost since the beginning of the recession in December 2007, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"In today's economy, job loss can happen to anybody," said Kate Strully, who conducted the new research as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society scholar at the Harvard School of Public Health. "We need to be aware of the health consequences of losing our jobs and do what we can to alleviate the negative effects."

Previous studies have found a link between job loss and poor health, with some indicating that workers with health problems are more likely to lose their jobs. But by using data from the U.S. Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a nationally representative survey from 1999, 2001 and 2003, Strully found that the reverse was also true: job loss could lead to certain health problems.

In particular, Strully found that "job churning," defined as high rates of job loss but low unemployment, has negative health consequences for workers who were not already sick. (Mergers, restructurings, and downsizings are all features of a churning job market.)

Strully found that for those who lost their job - white or blue collar - through no fault of their own (for example, if their employer closed its doors) the odds of reporting fair or poor health increased by 54 percent. Among respondents with no pre-existing health conditions, it increased the odds of a new health condition by 83 percent.

Even when workers found another job, they had an increased risk of new stress-related health conditions, the study found.

The results were a little different for workers who were fired or laid off, and depended on their occupation: While being fired, laid off or leaving a job voluntarily more than doubles the odds of a fair or poor health report among blue-collar workers, such job displacements have no significant association with the health reports of white-collar workers. Researchers don't know the reasons behind this difference.

Of course, not all health problems are necessarily likely to be triggered or exacerbated by the loss of a job. Those that can be linked to the stress involved in the situation are most likely to be impacted, Strully said, including stroke, hypertension, heart disease, heart attack, arthritis, diabetes and emotional/psychiatric problems.

Live Science Staff
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