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Under unemployment ( English unemployment , French chômage ) is understood in economics , the lack of profit-making job opportunities for part of the able-bodied and the existing wage level work prepare people. The statistical counterpart are the vacancies .


Unemployment affects the production factor labor , the price of which is known as wages and is formed on the labor market by the supply and demand of labor . In market terms, unemployment is the excess of labor supply over labor demand. Unemployment therefore presupposes a labor society subject to the market economy . This includes workers who can not make a living from their own means of production ( land , real estate , technical means of production) and a market economy society . A mass of such people - the industrial proletariat - emerged in the early modern era with the peasant liberations , the population explosion and the industrial revolution . The resulting social question ( pauperism ) also led from the 18th century to the first forms of state penal, educational and social systems and finally to employment policy. The wage workers organized themselves in the labor movement ( trade unions , workers 'parties , workers' associations , cooperatives, etc.) in order to be able to better cope with the problems associated with unemployment and externally determined wage labor.

Unemployment is one of the central problems of economic policy because it has to meet the goal of high employment within the magic square . For the purpose of achieving the target, the existing volume of work is to be evenly distributed over the potential labor force with the help of economic policy measures via the valid regulations on working hours . The goal is considered missed as long as there is significant underemployment or overemployment . The goal is only to be regarded as achieved when full employment , even if there may still be marginal unemployment within the framework of full employment. Unemployment is only in the case of market clearing completely eliminated in the labor market.


Concept history

In German , the term unemployment came up with the Great Depression in the 1890s.

The National Poverty Conference (nak), an amalgamation of leading associations of voluntary welfare in Germany, rejects the term “unemployed” and suggests switching to the term “unemployed”, as there are many forms of non-paid work.


A distinction is made between the following types of unemployment:

  • Frictional unemployment occurs during the transition from one job to another, is usually short-lived and is unavoidable even in phases of full employment .
  • Seasonal unemployment arises over the course of the year due to climatic conditions (e.g. unemployment in agriculture in winter or in amusement parks ) or due to fluctuations in demand (e.g. in gastronomy during the off-season ; seasonal businesses ).
  • Cyclical unemployment is a consequence of economic fluctuations . If there is a lack of sales opportunities, companies lay off workers during the downturn and hire them again during the upswing .
  • Structural unemployment : it is the result of persistent structural crises or imbalances between the structure of supply and demand for labor. Structural unemployment includes:
    • Characteristic structural unemployment : The causes here are the differences between the qualifications of the unemployed and the requirements for vacancies, for example if the unemployed do not meet the qualification requirements for employment ( English mismatch ).
    • Sectoral unemployment : The causes here are weak growth or shrinkage tendencies in individual branches of the economy compared to other branches with stable conditions.
    • Technological unemployment : it arises from the replacement of labor by machines ( automation , rationalization ). Associated investments , for example for the acquisition of the machines, pay for themselves quickly through higher productivity ( rationalization investment ).
    • Institutional unemployment : Unemployment due to labor and social law regulations, e.g. B. when high unemployment benefits do not provide an incentive to take up less well-paid employment. High-wage policy, partly in connection with high severance payments such as B. in the coal and steel industry , in the transition of employees into unemployment to delay a new job. In many countries, collective agreements also give older workers better protection from unemployment than younger workers.
    • Regional unemployment : It arises from the fact that people are not ready or able to move to another region in order to take on a vacancy there (lack of spatial mobility ). The cause of regional unemployment is that there are certain regions in which there is a shortage of sought-after qualifications (partly caused by the lack of study / training places).
  • As a base unemployment ( sediment unemployment ) the proportion of the unemployment is referred to, which can not be broken down even under the most favorable economic conditions. This consists of frictional and structural unemployment. Specifically, this group of unemployed includes those who do not, or at least not immediately, find and accept a job due to qualifications, age, health status, place of residence or a lack of willingness to work. Base unemployment is particularly low in emerging countries.

Hidden unemployment

The term hidden or covert unemployment refers to the proportion of unemployment that is not recorded in statistics on unemployment. This primarily refers to the hidden reserve , namely unemployed people who are not registered as unemployed with the authorities . The reason for this can be, for example, that those affected consider it superfluous to report to the authorities as unemployed, for example because they would not be entitled to benefits anyway and because they consider it unlikely that the authorities will find a job. Often jobseekers in job creation measures or in officially ordered retraining measures , which are usually also not recorded in the unemployment statistics, are counted as hidden unemployment. In addition, hidden unemployment can also manifest itself in the fact that workers have a job but are not busy.

Unemployment statistics

Measuring unemployment presupposes a certain theory of the labor market. The measurement categories formed in this way must be seen in relation to the purposes that are to be fulfilled by the statistical survey in question.

Since unemployment in particular is defined differently in many countries, the national unemployment statistics are only comparable to a limited extent. For example, in the Netherlands, anyone who only works 1 hour a week is no longer considered unemployed. In most European countries there are therefore two unemployment statistics: one according to national and one according to international definition.

Economic theoretical explanations

Neoclassical approach to explanation

According to neoclassical economic theory , permanent, involuntary unemployment is not possible in a free society. Real unemployment is therefore caused by government market restrictions . These increase labor costs through compulsory levies for state unemployment funds, through minimum wages or other legal regulations, and thus reduce the demand for labor that is ready to pay.

Since unemployment ultimately represents a market imbalance in the economy as a whole, according to the (neo) classical view this can ideally only be reduced if there are price reductions on the labor market (i.e. labor costs are reduced, i.e. wages, ancillary wage costs, fixed costs etc.) or if the supply of labor increases decreased. If you compare different future scenarios , one percent less wages would result in between 0.5 and 2 percent more employment. This value is known as the elasticity of labor demand .

Employment group Elasticity of labor demand
Manufacturing industry in Germany 0.96
Manufacturing in Great Britain 1.85
Industry in the USA 1.92

For example, industrial workers' wages (real hourly labor costs) rose by 4% in the USA from 1982 to 2002, by 20% in the Netherlands and by 38% in West Germany including West Berlin. Correspondingly, the volume of work performed rose by 36% in the USA and by 24% in the Netherlands over the same period, while it did not increase in western Germany. However, the effects of the very high population growth in the USA and quite low in Germany are not factored in. The significantly higher non-wage labor costs as a result of German unification also play a role.

According to the classical and neoclassical theories, the price mechanism is also considered a compensation on the labor market. According to the employers' associations , which follow this theory, if there is an oversupply of labor, wages should fall until the demand for labor has increased, that is, until supply and demand match. A review of the thesis is only possible by comparing the wage level and unemployment in the EU internal market (i.e. the EU states excluding the accession countries) while eliminating the influence of domestic purchasing power and working hours. However, these figures must then be assessed against the background of migration (i.e. in the EU countries where the wage level is low, there is emigration, which apparently lowers unemployment).

However, from a supply-side perspective, it is not just wages or wage costs that are made responsible for unemployment. It is also said that state market regulations can prevent equalization on the labor market by e.g. B. the emergence of new companies - for example in the service sector - instead of shrinking industries , thus hindering structural change . Regulations in the labor market can also directly hinder job creation.

  • Neoclassical recommendations for combating unemployment are:
    • Reduction of wage rigidities (necessity to pay agreed wages) through opening clauses in collective agreements that allow lower wages than stipulated in the collective agreement in the event of difficulties for the company or in the event of competition problems. Various recent collective agreements contain such clauses that allow partial deviations from the general collective agreement .
    • Wage gap rule : Unemployment benefit should be calculated in such a way that it is worthwhile to take up a low-paid job.
    • Flexibility of working hours: with reductions in the case of poor orders and extensions in the event of a good order situation This would prevent layoffs in the downturn.
    • Dismantling of labor market regulations, e.g. B. a weakened protection against dismissal and simplified possibilities to conclude fixed-term employment contracts.

Keynesian approach to explanation

In contrast, Keynesian economic theory ascribes unemployment or part of unemployment to a lack of demand (for goods and services). The reason given is that the wages and salaries of employees are not only to be seen as costs for sole proprietorships, but also act as purchasing power . The Keynesian view does not ignore the level of income as an effect on purchasing power. This is why Keynesian theorists (unlike the neoclassical view) point out that the demand for lower wages represents a reduction in the real purchasing power of the mass purchasing power. Therefore, the realization of such a demand would need to compensate for the decline in mass purchasing power by increasing consumption in private households of entrepreneurs (which would theoretically strengthen long-term economic growth, but is strongly linked to future expectations) or an expansion of exports.

The tacit assumption that is true in individual cases that total demand remains unchanged is no longer valid if all workers accept a lower wage; because then the wages and salaries will fall first and the consumer goods demand of employee households is likely to decline (in a first step). Simply lowering wages does not result in a new job. Depending on the reduction in the price level and the interest rate, the demand for capital goods is also influenced. A deflation can not be excluded in a decrease in the overall price level.

Keynesian economists also make a number of other arguments:

  • Experience has shown that wages are rigid, i. H. they do not decrease with unemployment. One reason for this can be collective agreements that define minimum standards that must not be undercut. Even without such contracts, workers are likely to offer great resistance to a wage cut.
  • The wage is not just a market price , it also creates incentives. From the employer's point of view, it can therefore make sense to pay a wage that is above the equilibrium wage , as this motivates its employees to perform better (see efficiency wage theory ).
  • The wage represents the material livelihood of the employee. If the wage falls, some will increase their labor supply in order not to suffer a loss of income. B. accept a second job. The higher supply would, however, require further wage cuts in order for the labor market to come to equilibrium.
  • The labor market is not homogeneous, but segmented regionally and sectorally. Does unemployment arise e.g. If, for example, only in one region, then wages would have to fall there, while they remain unchanged in regions with full employment. Then there would have to be a migration of workers to the high-wage regions, or companies would have to relocate their production to the low-wage region. But if the factors of production are immobile, falling wages will not eliminate unemployment.
  • The labor market is a subordinate market. Workers do not serve the direct satisfaction of a need like a normal economic good. Labor is derived from the total demand for goods and services. (See also: purchasing power theory ). Classical interpretations of unemployment, which assume that unemployment is due to the fact that the marginal costs of the factor labor are higher than its marginal utility, completely ignore the demand for goods.

For a long time, the trade unions pursued the goal of achieving a balance between supply and demand on the labor market by redistributing existing work (by reducing working hours, promoting part-time work, etc.). Politics, too, tried in the 1990s, on early retirement of youth unemployment counteract. However, some of the workers who retired early were not replaced, which put the social security systems in a problematic situation.

Critics from the employer-affiliated camp hold this policy against that they treat work as a hedonistic good, with the result that work ethics and work motivation are undermined. For the work ethic it is constitutive that it is based on a meaningful task and that the solution of this task is connected with overcoming internal and external resistance, i.e. it takes effort and effort. Gainful employment has traditionally given entitlement to consume goods. If paid work itself is treated as a hedonistic good, which is consequently to be distributed fairly, then the employed person can no longer be proud of his work performance and derive his self-esteem from it, but must, conversely, be grateful for the fact that he is allowed to work . A policy of redistribution of work would, according to the critics, stubbornly enforce generally low working hours without corresponding to the task to be solved and the worker who has to solve it.

Unemployment arises from a lack (temporary, cyclical, etc.) of effective demand. For example, Keynesianism recommends an anti-cyclical fiscal policy to prevent a temporary lack of demand, while the Austrian School , on the other hand, wants to stimulate demand through tax cuts . Occasionally, a lack of demand is also long-term, e.g. B. blamed for unemployment due to satiety . However, general, macroeconomic saturation cannot be convincingly justified, because involuntary unemployment goes hand in hand with unsatisfied consumer wishes, which means that macroeconomic production potential is not fully utilized. This is why it is referred to as a trap, since on the one hand the recipients of high incomes hardly increase their consumption (i.e. save considerably) and on the other hand the recipients of low incomes cannot satisfy their consumption desires (and therefore often get into debt). However, since they are not considered reliable debtors with sufficient creditworthiness, the capital supply does not find sufficient demand. This can then be reflected in crises such as the so-called subprime crisis.

Economic unemployment

Beveridge curve

Cyclical unemployment is caused by a temporary lack of demand during recessions. In order to avoid such situations, politicians tried to compensate for the drop in demand through government spending programs as part of a Keynesian countercyclical fiscal policy. According to some economists, this approach failed in the 1970s. a. because politicians were unable to end spending programs when the economy improved. If the basic problem lay in the excessively high wage level or in the insufficient flexibility of the labor market, spending programs would not be adequate to the cause.

In addition, in the opinion of many economists, it must be taken into account that Keynesianism is definitely justified in situations with a loss of demand, such as that which occurred on Black Friday in 1929. However, if the supply side is more responsible for unemployment, as in the case of excessively high taxes and wages , then expanding government demand would be counterproductive.

The Beveridge curve provides further information about the causes of unemployment .

Macroeconomic Approaches

Measures to combat unemployment should address its causes. To the extent that wages are rigid, the idea that higher inflation could help lower unemployment became widespread in the 1950s . If wages rise more slowly than the inflation rate, nominal wages would continue to grow, but real wages would decrease, which would dissolve wage rigidity (so-called Phillips curve ). ( Quote from Helmut Schmidt and Bruno Kreisky in the mid-1970s : “Better five percent inflation than five percent unemployment”).

For a long time, attempts were made to combat unemployment by reducing the potential of the workforce (the labor force potential ), e.g. B. by extending school time (as happened in Germany in the 1970s), early retirement and early retirement , as well as - z. B. in the Netherlands - a generous disability scheme. In the long run, however, these measures proved to be too expensive, as early retirees and disabled people are paid from the social security funds, which are financed by contributions from employees. Another starting point was the promotion of part-time employment .

Marxist view

According to the Marxist view, social unemployment is necessary for capitalism and is one of its necessary side effects. It arises from the compulsion to achieve maximum surplus value. The volume of work depends on various factors such as the number of workers and the working hours. According to Marx, a worker only receives the remuneration necessary for his reproduction. Therefore it can make sense to let some of the workers work a lot and to expel others from the production process. An uneven distribution of the decrease in the volume of work therefore results in an increase in unemployment.

The unemployed form the “ industrial reserve army ” which capital can access whenever it needs it: “It is therefore just as much a tendency of capital to increase the working population as a part of it constantly as a surplus population - population that is initially useless is until capital can utilize them ”. However, no statement can be made from this theory about the necessary or actual level of unemployment or about whether full employment would be possible if this was allowed.

The competition of entrepreneurs among themselves forces the individual capitalists to increase their productive power: “The greater productivity of labor is expressed in the fact that capital has to buy less necessary labor in order to create the same value and greater quantities of use-values, or that less necessary labor creates the same exchange value, utilizes more material, and a greater mass of use values. [...] At the same time, it appears that a smaller amount of work sets a larger amount of capital in motion. " Rationalization or discipline in the labor sector and technical progress make this possible:" The additional capital formed in the course of normal accumulation preferably serves as a vehicle for exploitation new inventions and discoveries, in general industrial improvements. But with time, the old capital also reaches the moment when there is a technically modernized form in which a smaller amount of work is sufficient to set a larger amount of machinery and raw materials in motion. On the one hand, the grant capital formed in the course of accumulation, in proportion to its size, attracts fewer and fewer workers. On the other hand, the old capital, periodically reproduced in a new composition, ejects more and more workers previously employed by it. ”“ In the same proportion as capitalist production develops, the possibility of a relatively surplus working population develops, not because of the productive power of social labor decreases, but because it increases, i.e. not from an absolute disproportion between labor and means of subsistence or means for the production of these means of existence, but from a disproportion arising from the capitalist exploitation of labor, the disproportion between the increasing growth of capital and its relatively diminishing needs according to the growing population. "

In capitalism, a “permanent, apparent worker overpopulation ” is inherent in the system, because capital needs as much work as possible in order to produce as much as possible (that is, must have constant access to excess work) and at the same time has to buy as little work as possible. In Marx's case, the industrial reserve army - in contrast to Malthus , against whom Marx vehemently polemics - does not represent an “absolute”, i.e. H. demographically based overpopulation; it is rather an overpopulation relative to the current needs of capitalist exploitation. In the period of upswing, the industrial reserve army declines, but in times of crisis or lull it increases sharply. In the long run, however, "the working population always grows faster [...] than the need to utilize capital", which Marx also calls the "law of the progressive decrease in the relative size of variable capital". The unemployed also act as a means of exerting pressure on the workers by becoming competition for the working population. For example, they can be employed in place of strikers.

In capitalism, according to Marx, the greater the wealth, the higher the productive power, the higher the unemployment: “The greater the social wealth, the functioning capital, the scope and energy of its growth, thus also the absolute size of the proletariat and the productive power of its labor the bigger the unemployed army. The labor force that can be used everywhere is developed by the same causes as the expansive force of capital. The proportionate size of the industrial reserve army thus grows with the powers of wealth. But the larger this unemployed army in relation to the active workers' army, the more massive the chronic worker overpopulation, whose misery is in inverse proportion to their labor agony. Finally, the greater the poor stratum in the working class and the industrial reserve army, the greater the official number of the poor. This is the absolute, general law of capitalist accumulation. "" It is in the nature of capital to overwork one section of the working population and impoverish another. "

Technical progress

The global competition between labor, outsourcing or globalization in general or technical progress are often named as causes of unemployment . Some reformers argue that a major structural reason for mass unemployment lies in technical progress, which has drastically reduced the need for living human labor and will continue to do so. The times in which the number of jobs created during an economic upswing was greater than the number of jobs previously destroyed by rationalization (or at least the same size) had been since the mid-1970s or since the end of the classic industrial age, that of labor-intensive industries were finally over.

Dieter Balkhausen stated in his book The Third Industrial Revolution as early as 1978 that by the end of the 1980s, 50 percent of jobs in Germany would be changed by microelectronics.

Richard Buckminster Fuller stated in his book Critical Path (1981): Unemployment is based directly on the technical possibility of ephemerization . Norbert Wiener , a co-founder of cybernetics , expressed a similar opinion , who pointed out in 1947 that the progress in computer technology would trigger mass unemployment.

The French social philosopher André Gorz also believes that for centuries more and more jobs have been done by machines. The resultant increase in productivity means that less human labor is required even as production increases. The idea of ​​full employment becomes an illusion.

History of unemployment

Founding period

Adam Smith still assumed in 1776 that laid-off workers would find employment elsewhere due to the growth of the markets. He did not see this temporary underemployment as unemployment, but rather as “free time”. For the population pessimist Thomas Robert Malthus in 1798, people were by nature "lazy, lazy and averse to any work unless necessity forces them to". In 1820 he saw increasing birth rates ( fertility ) as the main cause of unemployment. To avoid this, the unemployed are employed by the state in building roads, bridges or canals, or at least for unproductive activities. He also advocated a preventive limitation of population growth .

Unemployment was not a major problem in David Ricardo's time given the extensive market clearing of the labor market. In 1821, he saw the introduction of machines as the greatest danger of unemployment through rationalization . However, he made it clear that they arise may , but not necessarily arise needs . Ricardo, however, brought these ideas until the third edition of his book by the new chapter "views on the machine" ( English on machinery ) a. Like Adam Smith , Ricardo spoke of "labor surplus".

As early as 1840, the French doctor and sociologist Louis-René Villermé examined the working conditions and unemployment in the Swiss and French textile industries. Friedrich Engels spoke in one of his “Elberfeld Speeches” in February 1845 “of the large number of unemployed people”. The entrepreneurs Albert Dufour-Féronce and Gustav Harkort dedicated their memorandum, which appeared in 1848, to the “Association of Unprofitable Workers”. In August 1848, the Congress of Workers' Associations demanded the establishment of a "state unemployment benefit". Karl Marx failed in 1880 when attempting to investigate job losses by interviewing industrial workers. For him, the unemployment of the "industrial reserve army" was a typical side effect of capitalism through the "competition of machinery". In the context of the nationwide standardization of poor relief, the German social statistics in 1885 also introduced unemployment as a cause of poverty. In 1883 the statistician Gottlieb Schnapper-Arndt spoke of the workers' “sudden unemployment” “as a result of industrial crises”. The first statistical surveys on unemployment in Germany were carried out by the trade unions in 1877, and have been carried out systematically since 1892. However, the word unemployment did not appear widely until after 1890. A bibliography from 1904 shows that unemployment was not an issue in Germany before 1890. Only after 1890 did the number of publications on this increase sharply. In Great Britain , too, the concept of unemployment only became generally accepted towards the end of the 19th century. The politician and historian Hans Delbrück gave a lecture on the problem of unemployment (“Unemployment and the right to work”) at the 7th Evangelical Social Congress in May 1896 ; he put the introduction of unemployment insurance into consideration and proposed the introduction of an official proof of work. Max Weber countered him that behind the problem of unemployment was the "terrible seriousness of the population problem". France recorded the unemployed ( French les chômeurs ) for the first time in 1896 as a separate category.

An insurance coverage began in the social sector in 1883 with the health insurance , following her 1884 accident insurance and in 1889 the retirement . Only the economist Lujo Brentano requested unemployment insurance in 1879. There was often the opinion that the risk of unemployment could not be calculated rationally and therefore could not be insured. In addition, between 1890 and 1914 the unemployment rate in Germany averaged around 2.6%, so there was no need for this type of insurance . After its peak in 1892 (6.9%), unemployment fell to full employment level: in 1895 (in winter) it reached 3.5%, in 1906 (1.2%), in 1913 (3.1%), to 7 in the war year 1914 % increase. Unemployment insurance did not appear in statistics until 1920. Austria led here with a share of insured persons of 34% of all employed persons, followed by Denmark (22%), Great Britain (20%) and Belgium (18%), while Germany had no insured persons. This was due to the fact that unemployment insurance only came into existence in Germany in 1927.

Modern times

In his book General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money in February 1936, John Maynard Keynes demonstrated that if anti-cyclical economic policies were not pursued, inflexible wages and imperfect capital markets could result in permanent involuntary unemployment . In contrast to the classics, Keynes was convinced that a deflationary policy by the central banks would not automatically lower prices and wages, but would instead cause high unemployment to this end.

The most pressing problem with the seizure of power by Adolf Hitler was excessive unemployment with 6.3 million unemployed (January 1933). From April 1933, the regime focused on promoting consumption and investment (elimination of vehicle tax for new cars, introduction of the VW Beetle , road construction , marriage loans for household items that could be “cut off” , housing renovation grants ). Indeed, unemployment was reduced to 2.4 million in October 1934, although the proportion of unregistered unemployed increased from 20% to 41%.

Unemployment in planned economy systems

While market economies have sometimes lower and sometimes higher unemployment, there was officially full employment in the central administrative economies before the fall of communism . This full employment was questioned by Western economists, who pointed out that some of the employees were "actually" not economically needed or that their working hours were not fully used. It has to be taken into account that full employment was a political priority and that the right to work was a human right under Article 23 of the UN Charter of Human Rights .

In the socialist society and state order of the GDR there was officially no unemployment because it would be eliminated by the planned economy . As early as April 1950, a law ensured the right to work , until this right was even enshrined in Article 24, Paragraph 1 of the Constitution of the German Democratic Republic in October 1974 . Since 1977 the GDR has recorded a considerable decline in the utilization rate of potential production , which is an indication of rising unemployment. With the new Labor Code of January 1978, unemployment insurance was no longer available in the GDR because the right to work guaranteed a legal right to a job .

The majority of unemployment in the GDR was therefore not openly revealed, but was concealed, and could therefore be described as "hidden" or "hidden" unemployment. Either people were placed below their qualifications during their working hours ( qualitative hidden unemployment ) or they worked within the framework of their qualifications, but only part of their working hours ( quantitative hidden unemployment ). According to a survey carried out in the spring of 1990 for 1989, 1.385 million people were classified as covertly unemployed, which corresponds to an unemployment rate of 15%. If hidden unemployment rises, then labor productivity falls . In fact, labor productivity in GDR companies was well below that in West German, also because the control margin was often too small (too few employees were subordinate to a manager ). It has been estimated to be less than half the productivity of western companies.

In spring 1990 - before reunification - the Ifo Institute for Economic Research dealt with productivity in the GDR and published its research under the title "Hidden Unemployment in the GDR ". In the study, the data collected are described as not statistically reliable (page 1). From the data used, it was concluded that the working hours were not fully used (only 15% to 30%). This was interpreted in such a way that in the GDR with unchanged working hours - measured by the standards of a market economy - “actually” an unemployment rate of 15% to 30% would have prevailed. Large GDR companies that continued to exist after 1990 often reduced their workforce by 90%, but this was mainly due to the slump in demand caused by the loss of their previous trading partners in the socialist countries.

Unemployment protests

In times of mass unemployment, in particular, the unemployed were repeatedly involved in social movements and protests. In the period of revolutionary upheaval in Germany after the First World War, unemployment councils were formed analogous to the workers 'and soldiers' councils. These grassroots democratic bodies campaigned for higher support payments, job creation measures and a socialist restructuring of the economy. In the Great Depression from 1929, for example, such protests forced the introduction of the “ New Deal ” with government stimulus programs and an expansion of the welfare state in the USA . In Germany, on the other hand, where unemployment insurance had been introduced from 1927, but whose benefits were soon no longer sufficient, the protests did not achieve a social U-turn. The last big wave of protests against unemployment in Germany were the Monday demonstrations in 2004 , which mainly opposed the Agenda 2010 of the Red-Green government. In the context of the financial crisis from 2007 , there were massive protests by the unemployed, especially in Spain , Greece and Italy , which were expressed, for example, in squatting.

Unemployment protests have historically had a wide variety of demands - the first priority was to alleviate social hardship, and then there were always protests against the moral devaluation or disregard for the unemployed. Although there has been a high base unemployment rate since the 1970s, protests by the unemployed have seldom established themselves as a social movement .

Consequences of unemployment

Economic impact

The opportunity costs of the lost benefits that arise from unemployment must be taken into account. Because every unemployed person could - assuming jobs - contribute with his labor to increase the economic income. The production potential as well as the gross domestic product could be much higher. Thus, every additional unemployed person is a double burden, on the one hand they no longer contribute to the financing of social contributions (long-term care insurance, pension fund, etc.), on the other hand they receive these benefits from the time of unemployment.

High unemployment can reduce the political stability of a country and its society. Negative influences include a. increasing social costs and thus higher tax pressure, partly decreasing solidarity of the social and educational classes and a certain increase for political extremism .

Psychosocial Effects

The study by Paul Lazarsfeld, Marie Jahoda and Hans Zeisel, “ Die Arbeitslosen von Marienthal ”, which is one of the classics of empirical social research, is one of the most informative and realistic studies of the phenomenon of “unemployment” . The results there were largely confirmed again and again by further studies.

Possible individual consequences of unemployment, especially long-term unemployment, are psychological and health problems, dequalification (devaluation of previously acquired qualifications), socio-cultural isolation and impoverishment. In many cases, this also has an impact on the following generations, because the children of the unemployed have less chance of growing up mentally and physically healthy.

For many people, work is a psychosocial stabilizing factor and regulates the daily structure and the social environment. While in poorer countries unemployment still focuses on material need, according to politicians in the Federal Republic of Germany today it is mainly the psychosocial effects of unemployment. However, it is complained that the material situation in Germany has recently deteriorated again.

The potential psychological consequences include hopelessness, self-doubt, and resignation . Since personal success and social recognition depend heavily on professional performance, the unemployed person lacks confirmation from his environment. In addition, it is criticized that as a result of politicians' debates on laziness in the media, a climate has arisen that favors discrimination against the unemployed .

Older unemployed people who have been used to a fixed work structure for years and single men who tend to become more isolated are more affected. The consequences can be depression , addictions and an increased suicidal tendency due to hopelessness and unwillingness to live. This can lead to a break in social contacts. Unemployment is a particular concern among young people, as they lack such a means to develop their identity . Although the workplace defines status and identity for many people, there is no direct causal link between unemployment and violent crime, as Christopher Cramer of the School of Oriental and African Studies shows.

High unemployment can also affect the workforce who have jobs. The fear of losing one's job creates strong psychological pressure. Therefore jobs are changed less often because of the associated risk and one remains in a safe job, even if this makes one sick and depressed (e.g. as a result of bullying ).

In 2005, self-statements about the character ( Big Five characteristics) of the unemployed were obtained in the SOEP surveys . The self-reported results showed that increasing duration of unemployment was negatively correlated with rigidity / conscientiousness and positively correlated with neuroticism (reversed for duration of employment). No relationship to the duration of unemployment could be established for extraversion and tolerance . Openness was only negatively correlated with the duration of unemployment for female unemployed and workers with a migrant background.

The Robert Koch Institute found that unemployed people have poorer health than professionals :

“The likelihood of assessing one's own health as less good or bad increases with the duration of unemployment. Men who have been unemployed for one or more years report less good or bad health up to four times as often as working men without periods of unemployment. "

Health-conscious behavior is also lower, although a gender-specific difference can be seen here, as the example of smoking illustrates:

“While 49% of the unemployed men surveyed in the 1998 Federal Health Survey smoke, 34% of the employed male respondents do so. The differences among women are smaller with 31% smokers among unemployed women and 28% smokers among working women. "

The evaluation of current health insurance data shows:

  • Unemployed men spend more than twice as many days in hospital as working men.
  • Unemployed women spend 1.7 times as many days in hospital as working women.
  • The mortality increases continuously as a function of the preceding unemployment duration.
  • Evidence has been found that unemployment is causal in the development of serious illnesses.

However, the causality is often uncertain in studies of this type. Respondents also stated that the unemployment was caused by their already limited health or that the health damage was already caused by gainful employment.

For people who have been unemployed for more than 2 years, the mortality risk increases to 3.8 times that of people in employment. The psyche often suffers more than the body from unemployment. In 2006, a US study over 10 years from the representative US Health and Retirement Survey (HRS) on the risk of heart attack was published. Unemployed people between 51 and 61 who became unemployed after their 50th birthday were specifically considered. It has been empirically shown that, regardless of other factors (such as smoking, obesity and diabetes), the unemployed succumb to a roughly 2.5 times higher risk of strokes and heart attacks than their working peers.

Other studies show that women cope better with the health consequences of unemployment than men. In western Germany, for example, the highest life expectancy is found among women who have had at least one month of credit for unemployment or illness. For women there are other positive alternatives to life in addition to employment, so that periods of unemployment do not have to have a negative impact on health and thus on life expectancy. Furthermore, phases of unemployment for women often coincide with pregnancy and child-rearing periods, so that the periods of unemployment fall into a “positive” context.

Children of unemployed parents are disadvantaged in terms of their intelligence and language development. They often react to unemployment with discouragement and resignation, deterioration in concentration, behavioral problems and emotional instability.

Unemployment of the parents worsens the educational opportunities of the children. However, unemployment only has negative consequences for poorly educated parents. The cultural capital is more important . More educated parents are obviously better able to compensate for the problems that this entails.

According to Viktor Frankl, there is the possibility of an "unemployment neurosis", which manifests itself primarily in apathy . He sees the cause in the "erroneous view that professional work is the only meaning in life. Because the incorrect identification of profession and life task to which one is called, this equation must just lead to the unemployed under the feeling suffers from being useless and superfluous. "


Unemployment and unemployment are often used synonymously . In the labor market statistics according to the Third Book of the Social Security Code (SGB III) and the statistics according to the ILO employment status concept, those persons are considered to be unemployed or unemployed who are without work, are available to the labor market and are looking for work ( Section 138 (1) SGB III) . The fact that unemployment in the SGB labor market statistics is higher than the unemployment in the ILO employment status concept is due to the fact that the conceptual features are defined differently and are collected using different methods. The differences can be seen in particular in the age limits , active job search , availability, the one-hour criterion and participation in an active labor market policy measure . The one-hour criterion alone clearly shows the differences. While the ILO counts everyone as employed and therefore not as unemployed who has been employed for at least one hour per week, the threshold of SGB III is more than 15 hours per week (Section 138 (3) SGB III). These differences lead to different odds. In September 2016, the unemployment rate in Germany was 3.8%, while the unemployment rate reached 5.9%.

Film documentaries

See also



  • Expert report 2005/2006 Third chapter: The labor market: continuing the reform course. sachverstaendigenrat-wirtschaft.de (PDF; 889 kB)
  • Claudia Brunner: Unemployment in the Nazi State. The example of Munich. Centaurus-Verl.-Ges., Pfaffenweiler 1997, ISBN 3-8255-0128-0 .
  • Franklin Folsom: Impatient Armies of the Poor: the Story of Collective Action of the Unemployed 1808-1942. University Press of Colorado, Niwot 1991. ISBN 0-87081-184-3 .
  • Thomas G. Grobe, Friedrich W. Schwartz: Unemployment and health. Robert Koch Institute, Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-89606-140-2 .
  • Richard J. Jensen: The Causes and Cures of Unemployment in the Great Depression. In: Journal of Interdisciplinary History. 19 (1989) pp. 553-583.
  • Marie Jahoda , Paul Felix Lazarsfeld , Hans Zeisel : The unemployed from Marienthal . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1975, ISBN 3-518-10769-0 .
  • Paul Mattick : Unemployment and the Unemployment Movement in the USA 1929–1935. New criticism publishing house, Frankfurt am Main 1969 - exemplary analysis.
  • Arne Heise : Unemployment and Inequality in Different Models of Capitalism. In: work. Journal for work research, work design and work policy. Issue 4 (2006), vol. 15, pp. 273-289.
  • Enrico Pugliese: unemployment. In: Historical-Critical Dictionary of Marxism . Volume 1, Argument-Verlag, Hamburg 1994, Sp. 519-525.

Web links

Commons : Unemployment  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: unemployment  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: unemployed  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

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