QUEENSLAND: The “job snobs” are back on the agenda.
With some in the Australian government arguing for a lift in the unemployment benefit, other leaders appear to be upping the rhetoric about joblessness being a matter of choice for many.
“There are jobs out there for those who want them,” Minister for Employment, Michaelia Cash, has told the media.
On Aug 5, an Australian newspaper published these comments in a front-page story that suggested the Australian Department of Employment research showed almost half of all employers were finding it difficult to hire workers due to “lack of interest” – or because applicants did not have adequate qualifications.
The article was vague on which issue was the bigger problem, but it led with the claim “job-seekers are actively snubbing work opportunities”.
Such rhetoric is not new. Since the 1980s, governments have increasingly stressed “the best form of welfare is a job”.
Requirements that claimants show they are actively looking for work have become more onerous. Yet talk about job snobs continue.
Research, however, suggests these perceptions are largely a myth.
Between 2015 and 2018, we were part of a team studying the well-being, social networks and job search experiences of unemployed Australians.
Our study found no evidence job-seekers preferred not to work. It was hard not to conclude that whatever the reasons for their joblessness, lack of willingness to work was not one of them.
In some markets, structural labour market issues create serious hurdles for some.
A 2017 study by aged care services Anglicare, for example, found the proportion of entry-level vacancies slipped from 22 per cent to 15 per cent over a decade. This means just one entry-level job for about every five entry-level job seekers.
This explains why employers tend to speak more about “lack of job-readiness” being a problem, rather than lack of interest.
MOVING TO WHERE THE JOBS ARE
One trope used to suggest there are “job snobs” is to invoke job vacancies in places outside of cities.
Packing up and moving for work, however, isn’t necessarily that simple.
The vast majority of job-seekers in our study expressed a strong general willingness to move for work, and many had relocated in the past.
But whether they would move for a particular opportunity depended on the sorts of factors the rest of us would consider.
They were cautious about moving for short-term, temporary roles given the cost of moving, for example.
Doing so was seen as an expensive and risky proposition. Some individuals had no spare cash to move even if they wanted to.
Also important were family considerations – such as maintaining stability for children in school, or caring for ageing parents.
Some feared they would not be able to find rental accommodation as affordable as what they had. Many younger people still living with their parents were wary of moving away from family support, particularly if they didn’t own a car.
Many of our interviewees also expressed feelings of depression, perhaps reflecting underlying economic insecurity and uncertainty. Long-term unemployment and poverty are associated with poor mental health, which could affect someone’s willingness to leave support networks of family and friends.
Our research on the complex reasons that might prevent job-seekers from seizing every job opportunity points to the dangers of making punitive generalisations such as “there are jobs out there for those who want them”.
Such rhetoric glosses over the lived realities of being unemployed. It ignores the conditions of individuals’ lives.
It obscures the structural realities of competitive labour markets. It shifts responsibility for unemployment to the individual.
READ: What 2019’s graduating jobseekers need to know – four recession-proof strategies, a commentary
A richer understanding of the realities of unemployment and poverty, as well as a broader conception of well-being, is needed to solve the problem.
Greg Marston is professor of social policy and the head of department the School of Social Science at The University of Queensland. Michelle Peterie is research fellow in the same university.
Gaby Ramia is associate professor at the University of Sydney, and Roger Patulny is senior lecturer in Sociology at University of Wollongong.
A version of this commentary first appeared on The Conversation.