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Living day to day
Information for this paper was gathered in a rapidly growing, outer area of Melbourne as part of the Australian Living Standards Study. The paper examines the effects of the recession on 54 families with at least one unemployed member and a low income or families who were experiencing severe economic hardship for some other reason such as a substantiaL decline in the income of self-employed people. Case studies are presented, and the families' experiences with unemployment, the Commonwealth Employment Service, Newstart, and managing family finances are described.
Unemployment statistics do not tell the whole story of the recession, although the figures are alarming enough. In November 1991, there were 187,000 couples with children (9.3 per cent of all couples with children) where neither parent was employed. Similarly, there were 211,000 sole parents (53 per cent of all sole parents) who were not employed. In total, about 710,000 dependent children and 585,000 parents lived in families in which no parent was employed.
Not all of these parents were unemployed in the technical sense that they were 'actively looking for work and had not worked at all in the past week'. Some were out of the workforce for health reasons and some were unable to work because they were caring for others, particularly young children. Many were also 'discouraged job-seekers'; that is, they had given up actively looking for work after a long run of unsuccessful attempts.
However, virtually all had very low incomes. Furthermore, even according to the technical definition, about 150,000 fathers and 120,000 mothers of dependent children were unemployed in November 1991. For families with children, unemployment is not only a concern for parents; there were also 192,000 older children living with their parents and about another 64,000 young people aged 15-24 living away from home who were unemployed and looking for full-time work.
But the effects of the recession extend well beyond the unemployment statistics. Many retrenched wage and salary earners return to the workforce in jobs that pay much less than their previous jobs, or have fewer hours of work.
Neither do the unemployment statistics cover the very large number of self-employed people whose income is slashed by economic recession, although their businesses continue to operate. During these periods, business debts may rise substantially, leaving the family in a situation of longer term insecurity.
Finally, recession makes the position of those not in work before the downturn even more precarious because of the enormous competition for job vacancies. This group includes young people completing their education, women wanting to return to paid work and those who were out of work before the recession.
The number of ordinary families severely affected by the recession is huge, but concentrating on the unemployment statistics can focus attention on the manipulation of economic models and the tuning of the economic engine, rather than the human stories that lie behind the numbers.
Indeed, while the information for this paper was being gathered in the latter part of 1991, there did seem to be a tendency among economic planners to accept the level of unemployment as yet another unfavourable economic statistic that we would need to bear for some time. Government sources were projecting high levels of unemployment into the immediate future while the Opposition was promising to halve unemployment by the end of the century - nine years hence. The economic agenda contained few strategies to rapidly reverse the trend.
Since then, the human suffering caused by the recession has filtered up to the higher levels of government, employers and unions, and specific strategies are being addressed. The aim of this paper is to maintain and reinforce the need for such action.
Australian Living Standards Study
Information for this paper was gathered as part of the Australian Living Standards Study, an Institute project that examines the living standards of families in different localities around Australia (for further details, see Brownlee and McDonald 1991 and Kilmartin 1991).
The people described here all lived in a rapidly growing, outer area of Melbourne. Occupations in the area were mixed but many either worked in or were servicing the small to large nearby manufacturing industries. Many others were employed in the provision of housing and related services to cater for the rapid population growth.
Residents were mainly low-to-middle income home purchasers with a group renting in public housing. A small number were in private rental accommodation. The group in public housing contained many families where the parent or parents were not employed when the recession began. There were also many recent migrants of non- English-speaking backgrounds living in the area.
With the recession, retrenchments in local manufacturing industries were widespread and the building boom slowed to a crawl. Regional statistics show that the area is seriously affected by unemployment. Small businesses were also drastically affected by the downturn in the local economy.
Since the information for this paper was gathered in late 1991, the situation may have further deteriorated. Certainly many of those then in work felt insecure about their future. As one woman with a working husband put it, the major pressure in life was 'whether you have a job tomorrow'. As the information was collected from families over a period of about one month, it was not unusual for members of the family to become unemployed during that time.
As this was an area of very rapid population growth, many people had bought their houses in the past five years or so when prices were high. Consequently, many had mortgages in the $80-100,000 range with repayments around $800- 1000 per month. Of course, one-income families with housing costs of this kind are very vulnerable if the income earner is retrenched. On the other hand, many families had made their housing commitment on the basis of two incomes and the expectation that the two incomes would continue. Thus, such families were also vulnerable if either partner was retrenched.
Nationally, the proportion of two-income couples among couples with dependent children rose rapidly during the 1980s, continuing the long-term upward trend. The ABS Labour Force surveys show that this proportion rose from 42.3 per cent in September 1984 to a high of 56.4 per cent in March 1990. Since then, however, the proportion of two- income couples has declined, dropping to 53 per cent in November 1991. This decline corresponds with the onset of the recession. While two incomes provide a hedge against being reliant on social security payments, when one partner becomes unemployed, such couples are unable to meet their ongoing commitments if they are geared to those two incomes.
For the purposes of this study, we have looked at the circumstances of 322 families living in this outer area of Melbourne. Couple families in the sample had a very similar employment pattern to the national pattern: 56 per cent had both partners employed, 33 per cent had the husband employed but not the wife, 3 per cent had the wife employed but not the husband and 8 per cent had neither employed. Among sole parents, 65 per cent were not employed, somewhat higher than the national figure of 53 per cent.
Among the 322 families, we have identified 54 families (16.8 per cent) with at least one unemployed member and a low income or who were experiencing severe economic hardship for some other reason such as a substantial decline in the income of self-employed people. The remainder of the paper deals with the circumstances of these 54 families.
Out Of Work
Among these 54 families, there were 33 unemployed married men, 26 unemployed married women or sole mothers and nine unemployed young people under the age of 20.
The unemployed men tended to have been employed in the building or manufacturing industries either as skilled tradesmen or unskilled workers. The unemployed women were most likely to have been clerical workers, manufacturing workers, workers in the hospitality industry or low-level professionals. The young people had either never worked or had been employed as unskilled workers.
More than a third of the unemployed men had been out of work for two months or less; over half had been unemployed for less than six months. Most of the unemployed women had not worked for more than six months; some had never worked. Some wives of unemployed men had started looking for work when their husbands became unemployed, despite not having worked themselves for several years. Of the unemployed young people, four had never worked and four had been unemployed for 12 months or more.
Two-thirds of unemployed people had applied for jobs, but had had no interviews; for others the number of interviews varied considerably. Nine men, three women and three young people had applied for more than 30 jobs since they had been unemployed. Of these 15 people, seven had had no interviews, five had had between one and five interviews and three had had ten or more interviews.
Commonwealth Employment Service
Married men or single young people receiving the Job Search Allowance or Newstart were in regular contact with the Commonwealth Employment Service. Unemployed people are required to register with the CES and to report at regular intervals in order to be eligible for benefits.
JSA or Newstart is paid to the individual, but the level of entitlement is determined by the combined income of the couple and assessed to cover the whole family. Unemployed people not receiving JSA or Newstart because their partners were working, or people working part-time who wanted to work full-time, tended not to register with the CES although there were a number of exceptions. Although sole parents are not required to look for work to be eligible for a pension, half the unemployed sole parents were registered with the CES.
Because JSA or Newstart for a married couple is usually paid to the unemployed male, unemployed wives of these men tended not to register with the CES and therefore had little contact with the service. One such wife, however, 'registered on CES advice as my husband is unemployed'. She found them 'sympathetic to our joint employment problem'.
These unemployed people's experiences with the CES were very mixed. People were generally dissatisfied with 'the waiting times in the office' and 'the suitability of the jobs they have suggested to you'. Some expressed frustrations about their dealings with the CES - 'CES is not helpful. It represents a social club for the unemployed to meet regularly,' said one respondent. Another said about the CES: 'Poor communication - seems to be just processing paper.'
However, other unemployed people felt that the CES workers were doing a good job under difficult circumstances: 'CES staff busy but helpful. They try hard but can't please everyone all the time,' said one respondent. 'In general they try a lot to help,' another said.
Training and Education
Most of the unemployed people receiving income support had not signed a Newstart agreement, since they had been unemployed for less than 12 months. Three unemployed men and one sole parent had undertaken or were undertaking government training programs. All these unemployed men had been unemployed for more than 12 months, which is consistent with government policy of targetting training to the long-term unemployed. The two undertaking training had somewhat different views about the Newstart approach. While one commented that it was 'good', the other was extremely dissatisfied with 'the chance that the course offers you to get a job you would like'.
Twenty-three people, or a third of the unemployed people, would like to do some sort of education or training course, but cannot do so. The most common reasons were financial * they could not afford the course and/or there was little or no government assistance for what they wanted to do. For instance, an unemployed married man said he would like to do a part-time course in radio broadcasting, but the course is 'not run by the CES, so I would lose my benefit. AUSTUDY is not enough to live on or even pay rent'. Similarly, a married woman whose husband was unemployed would like to be doing a book-keeping and computer course but 'I am unable to afford the cost of the two courses I wish to do'.
Bills, and More Bills
Seventy per cent of the 54 families had found it difficult to manage their finances in the past 12 months. Almost forty per cent of these families had got behind with payments for electricity, gas or water, 37 per cent couldn't service or repair the car, a third had got behind with mortgage payments, rates or rent and a third had pawned or sold something to get cash.
Thirty-seven per cent of the families had received financial help from family or other relatives to pay for day-to-day needs. In six cases, their parents had given them $1000 or more. Eight families had received material help from a welfare agency. 'If it was not for this help, our child at one stage would not have had food,' said one respondent.
|Number of families|
|Got behind with payments for electricity, gas or water||21|
|Cut off the phone||5|
|Got behind with hire purchase payments||15|
|Got behind with mortgage payments, rates or rent||18|
|Received assistance from family or friends to pay mortgage or rent||15|
|Got financial help from family relatives to pay for day to day needs||20|
|Had to sell business or equipment to pay debts||10|
|Got material help from a welfare agency||8|
|Changed children's school to reduce costs||1|
|Couldn't renew driver's licence when due||3|
|Couldn't service or repair car||20|
|Couldn't pay insurance on house, contents, or car||17|
|Couldn't pay insurance on house, contents, or car||10|
|Couldn't pay school fees||9|
|Pawned or sold something to get cash||18|
|Didn't have money for children's school excursions or club outings||12|
|Couldn't contribute to the burial/funeral of a relative||3|
|None of the above||16|
|Total number of families||54|
|Source: AIFS Australian Living Standards Study, preliminary table|
Sixteen of the 54 families had debts, other than on the house or car, which they could not meet. While two families had debts of relatively small amounts, that is, under $500, six families had debts of $30,000 or more. Many families spoke of the anxiety and stress it caused them not being able to meet their debts- 'It creates tension and arguments. We are selling assets cheap to get money.'
Many unemployed people talked about boredom, stress and loss of self-esteem and confidence. They also talked about the effect of the lack of money on themselves and their families. 'It is very hard on the children at times. Very up and down. Uncertainty makes life difficult. Sometimes we cope well, but there is pressure when unexpected expenses occur, such as a car repairs bill or other repairs.'
Several families talked about cutting back on food, clothing and basic necessities. Sixteen families, who were buying a home or renting privately, were having great difficulty making mortgage or rent payments. 'It is just very hard to meet the mortgage payments, leaving us with hardly enough money for other things,' one respondent said. Six families said that due to unemployment they may have to sell the family home.
In general, families under stress because of unemployment or a failing business did not talk about the effect on their health. Four people, however, considered that their health had worsened because of such stress. A man who had been unemployed for ten months said his health had deteriorated because of 'too much pressure'.
Members of three families had suffered extreme hardship because of their financial situation. In two families, one or both of the parents went without a meal on a number of days in the previous month because of lack of money. In the third family, the parents and their three-year-old child went without a meal on five days in the previous month because of lack of money and a lack of working appliances (stove or refrigerator) to store or prepare the food.
Although some of the families had had a long experience of economic hardship, for most the experience was a direct consequence of the recession. Because the experience was recent, most were using short-term strategies in the hope they could ride it out. They were attempting to hold on to their house, their car and their telephone because these were the basics upon which they could rebuild. For most, a car was essential to looking for or getting a job. Public transport was basically inadequate and could not provide the flexibility for the journeys to work or job interviews that were required in the area.
The principal strategy of these families was to spend as little money as possible. A high proportion delayed or did not pay the regular bills, including their mortgage or rent. They also increased their risks by not paying insurance and by not servicing their cars.
If the bank or other creditors did not foreclose, this was a sensible course of action. While everyone can benefit from financial advice, these people could not generally be described as poor managers. Some, however, were facing the sale of their houses and unless the recession reverses rapidly, others will also face this eventuality. It seems that banks are not quick to foreclose on housing loans in these circumstances and it is to be hoped that this continues to be the case.
It is hard to see those with high mortgage payments being able to hold out for a long period without additional support. Consistent with other AIFS studies, this study has shown that close to half the families received assistance with their housing costs and their day- to-day needs from their wider family, usually their parents. While family support can assist in a crisis, it is less likely to be sustainable in the long term.
It is very important also to state that these families were able to keep going because of existing public supports and services which might sometimes be taken for granted.
The first and most important of these are social security benefits. Without a system of public income support, these families would have rapidly disintegrated and would have had no chance at all of riding out the recession. These cases highlight the importance of a universal and adequate system of income support for all Australians.
A sizeable proportion of the sample were living in public housing and the lower rents paid were clearly another public service that enabled these families to stay together through this crisis. The situation of those subject to the market forces of private rental was much more precarious. This was also a conclusion of the recent AIFS-Hanover study of homeless families (McCaughey 1992).
The children of these families did not have to leave school. The families may have had difficulty meeting some school expenses such as excursions and textbooks, but their children were receiving a basic education at little direct cost to parents.
Austudy was also crucial to those with children in the later years of school or in tertiary education. The absence of 'up-front' fees for tertiary courses meant these families were able to maintain their children in education. At the same time, the costs of the courses were the principal obstacle to the parents taking up tertiary study.
Finally, although there were some problem areas such as dental care and the costs of some prescriptions, in general these families were able to obtain the health care they needed at very little cost to themselves. Very few had or could afford private health insurance.
While public supports and services are crucial in the short-term, clearly what these people want and what they need are jobs. However, at the time of writing, with the closure of the Nissan plant which provided jobs for many in the area, the situation was deteriorating rather than improving.
- McCaughey, J. (1992), Where Now? Homeless Families in the 1990s, Policy Background Paper No 8, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Melbourne.
- Brownlee, H. and McDonald, P. (1991), 'Institute undertakes three- year study in Australian living standards', Family Matters, No.29, August.
- Kilmartin, C. (1991), 'There's no work here, eh! The future of small Australian towns', Family Matters, No.30, December.
All names are fictitious and some details have been modified to preserve confidentiality.
'Fiona' and 'Todd' are a couple in their mid-twenties with two toddlers. Fiona has not worked since the birth of their first child and does not want to work while the children are young. Neither has any post-school qualifications although Fiona completed Year 12.
Todd is a tradesman in the building industry but has been without work for 12 months. They receive the unemployment benefit. Their baby requires continuing medical attention. They pay $700 per month for their privately rented house. They chose this house because it is close to their friends and to shops. The yard is too dangerous for the children to play there. They have one car which is almost 20 years old.
Fiona recently needed to go to the dentist but could not afford to do so. In addition, in the past 12 months, they have had the phone cut off, been unable to pay fuel bills, got behind in rent payments, accepted financial support from relatives and obtained material help from a welfare agency.
Before they had their car, they could not get to the welfare agency to seek emergency relief when they needed it. They are unable to pay back the loan from family and they feel guilty about this. On ten days in the past month, Todd or Fiona went without a meal because they did not have enough money to buy food. The couple never go to the movies or concerts and they never eat out.
Fiona makes all the children's clothes. She would like to do a training course but this is impossible. While she is sometimes tense and discouraged, most of the time she is hopeful about the future. She is struggling to keep the family together despite the difficulties they face.
In the past six months, Todd has applied for 90 jobs and been interviewed for 35. He is registered with the CES and has been on a CES training program. He says- 'I feel ashamed that after nine years of working that now I can't support my family. I am depressed all of the time. We haven't any money for anything. We have to save up to make clothes for the kids.' He would like to do a course but cannot afford to do so. He is tense and discouraged most of the time and is rarely hopeful about the future.
Family on the Edge
'Michael', who is in his late thirties, has been in work for most of his adult life. He and 'Joanne' built their four- bedroom house in 1990 on land bought a few years earlier. They pay around $900 per month on the loan they took out to build the house. It is the first home for both.
They live with Michael's two children from a previous marriage. Both children are in primary school. They had struggled for several years to get themselves in a position to build their house, which is close to work, schools and family. It also fulfilled their plans to have a house in a quiet neighbourhood, was safe for the children and provided long-term security for the family.
During the period of the study, Michael lost his unskilled job in the building industry. He had had other periods without work in the previous months. Joanne works part- time while the children are at school in a clerical job in a small business. Their income when Michael is in work is just enough for them to cope with their expenses. Even then, they do not always have money to pay for the children's school excursions.
They have survived through financial assistance from Michael's family. Said Joanne- 'We have worked very hard to build our own home but due to circumstances beyond our control, we are struggling to keep it. It is very stressful.'
Michael has a TAFE certificate in business and Joanne would like to study at TAFE but is unable to get the children minded if Michael is working. The course she is interested in is not available at night. There is no after- school care program at the children's school. Michael has applied for 15 jobs in the past six months but has been interviewed for only two of these. He is registered with CES but is extremely dissatisfied with the opportunities that the CES can provide.
Unemployment, according to Michael, has left the family on edge, easily disturbed and vulnerable to arguments. He is very worried that the house they have struggled to get will have to be sold because they cannot meet the repayments. Joanne is pregnant and she worries about what will happen when this child is born.
Retrenched and in Debt
'Bill' and 'Noelene' are in their late thirties. Bill was recently retrenched from his manager's job in a major manufacturing company. He had worked for the company for 15 years. His salary of $45,000 per year has been replaced by the unemployment benefit. Noelene works two days a week for a house cleaning company. They have two children in secondary school and one in primary school.
Because they needed more space as their children got older, they bought their house new a few years ago using capital from the sale of a previous house. They pay just over $700 per month in repayments on the house. They also pay $170 per month on a car which is now ten years old and own a second car which is 15 years old.
In addition, they owe a large amount on a personal loan which they are unable to repay at present. Their commitments are high but they were able to cope before Bill's retrenchment. Now they cannot afford to have their cars serviced or to pay for their children's school excursions. They rarely go out any more and are unable to go away for a holiday.
Bill has applied for 12 jobs in the past six months and has been interviewed for three. He is registered with the CES but is extremely dissatisfied with the assistance offered. He says unemployment has meant a loss of security, no outings or trips and low morale. The children do not easily understand that they can no longer go out to movies and on other outings. He would like to take up further training but is unable to afford the cost of doing so. Noelene is concerned about the future, saying that Bill's unemployment hasn't had a real impact yet.
Struggling to Stay Afloat
'Margaret' and 'Peter' are in their mid-forties and have two children in secondary school. An older child lives away from home. Margaret works as a primary school teacher earning about $400 per week while Peter runs a transport business. Both children have casual jobs after school. The couple live in their first home which they bought 14 years ago after renting in the same area. At that time they wanted a house that was close to schools and had a safe environment for the children. They pay off about $350 per month on the house. They have one car which is about 18 years old.
These comfortable circumstances have been disrupted because Peter's business has run at a loss since the onset of the recession. He has repayments of $4000 per month for business loans and is unable to make the payments. The family is hounded by debt collectors and Peter works long hours and interstate in his attempt to keep going. Needed repairs to the house go unattended. The situation is 'depressing and demoralising and causes stress and disharmony in the family. It is worrying us into an early grave'.
Margaret would like to obtain higher qualifications but the increased wages she would get would not balance the cost of the course. Besides, she cannot drive anywhere safely because the car is worn out and cannot be replaced. This is a serious concern because public transport in the area is inadequate and unsafe late at night. Margaret has a feeling of 'slowly sliding backwards, of helplessness and resentment'. Her husband's long absences from home are a great pressure on her.
Peter does not appear in the unemployment statistics. He works very long hours in work that is insecure and tense. His work has a bad effect on his relationship with his wife and children and upon his own self esteem. The need to work long hours away from home has put an end to any social life. He would like to retrain but simply does not have the time. He sees his life as pretty empty much of the time and he is often anxious and discouraged. He is dissatisfied with any aspects of his life.
'Judy' is a sole parent in her late thirties. She has four teenage children, one working on a junior salary and three still at school. At the end of the period of the interviews, Judy lost her job with a food processing company after working for the company for eight years. She began working for the company soon after her marriage ended. She has no post-school qualifications. She would like to retrain but the obstacles are far too great.
Judy has owned a house in the past but the house had been sold and, at the time of interview, she was renting a house at $1080 per month. She had chosen this house because it was close to public transport, close the children's school and close to friends. She is very happy with the house and the neighbourhood but recognises that she will probably have to move if she cannot find work quickly. She describes her loss of work as a financial disaster. Her children, she says, do not fully comprehend the situation yet. On the positive side, she owns her car which is in good working order.
Before Judy lost her job, it was very difficult for the family to manage their finances. She had had the phone cut off, was behind in payments for electricity and gas and could not fully pay the children's school expenses from her salary of $24,000 per annum. She also owed $3000 on a credit card.
Her former husband paid the children's school fees and a small amount of maintenance. Federal Government supplementation of her income in the forms of rent assistance, Austudy and Family Allowance Supplement was crucial to the family's financial survival.
Under very difficult circumstances, Judy was managing to struggle through to the time when her children had left school and things would get a bit easier. Unemployment has now made this struggle next to impossible. Despite this, Judy remains hopeful about the future, although some of the time she is anxious and discouraged.
'Robert' and 'Jan' have two older teenage children still at home. Robert suffers from high blood pressure following the failure of his business. At $200,000 in debt, the family is experiencing a very stressful time. To keep going, they have fallen behind in all their bills, including the repayment of the debt. Robert borrowed against the house to partly finance the business. The house which the couple bought in 1978 will now have to be sold. They have received substantial financial assistance from their families.
Although unemployed for three months, Robert does not appear in the unemployment statistics now because he has taken a job as a council worker and has a second job as well. These jobs are very low paying in comparison with the debts he faces. They also do not require the tertiary qualifications which he holds. He has applied for 20 jobs in the last six months. He remains hopeful about the future and is rarely discouraged.
Jan works part-time in a shop. She is very happy with the work and the money her job brings in. She is not hopeful about the future and is on edge much of the time. She likes the neighbourhood in which she lives and sees the sale of the family home as the major pressure in her life.
The couple's elder child is at university and receives Austudy. Both children are also concerned about the sale of the family home.
'Con' and 'Maria' have three pre-school children. Both are well qualified, she with a university degree and he with a TAFE certificate. She has not worked since the birth of their first child. Con has worked as a self-employed, skilled tradesman for the past eight years but has been unable to get much work over the past year.
The couple have had to sell their house and trade down to a less valuable house in order to reduce their repayments. They are unable to afford necessary repairs to their house. The combined repayments on their house and business vehicle amount to almost $1000 per month. They have got behind in gas and electricity payments and cannot afford to have the car serviced.
Con feels anxious much of the time and this is affecting his health. The financial circumstances have also restricted the family's opportunities to go out to places of entertainment.
'Vicky' and 'Jim' have four young children. Both are looking for work. Jim is self-employed doing casual repairs and maintenance but has not got very much work for the past year. He is now registered as unemployed with the CES and receives the unemployment benefit. Vicky has been looking for work for the past 18 months. Neither has any post-school qualifications.
The couple have had to sell their house and for the past two years have lived in Jim's brother's house while the brother is away. They don't pay rent but pay all the charges related to the house. They are unable to get a loan to buy their own house. They have an old car which is not in good running order and are paying off the utility that Jim uses in his work at $350 per month. They have on- going medical expenses related to two of their children. They also have a private loan of $10,000 from a relative.
Over the past 12 months, the family has got behind in all their payments, could not renew a driver's licence, pay insurance or have the car serviced. They have also been unable to pay for the children's school excursions. These problems have caused the family considerable worry. Leisure activities are almost totally restricted due to lack of money.
Jim has applied for ten jobs in the past six months. The CES has been unable to provide any real assistance in finding work. For Jim, unemployment means low self- esteem, financial hardship and inability to improve their housing circumstances. Vicky has applied for eight jobs in the past six months and has been interviewed for four of these. For Vicky, unemployment means frustration. She would like to do a course at night but the costs for night, part-time study are far too expensive. She is rarely hopeful about the future and feels discouraged, sad and annoyed much of the time.
Out of Work
'Steve' and 'Mary' are in their early fifties. They bought their Housing Commission house almost 20 years ago and are still paying it off at $150 per month. They have a son still living at home who has left school and is out of work. Steve has a trade certificate as a plasterer but has not worked in his trade since being injured 18 months ago. The family lives on his workers' compensation payment of $540 per week. Mary had worked as a process worker for seven years but was retrenched four months ago. Their son has been out of work for the past two years and has been recently taken off unemployment benefit.
Their house is seriously in need of repair but the required repairs are too expensive. The family has a ten-year-old car in good working condition, although they cannot afford to have it serviced. They had to sell their second car to pay the rates and other bills.
Mary has applied for four jobs in the past four months but says employers are looking for someone younger. She is not registered with the CES. She is not hopeful about the future and feels discouraged most of the time. She says she would like to work to make ends meet. 'We do not go out very much because the pictures, etc. are too expensive. We are lucky we are buying a Housing Commission house because the repayments are not as high as some houses.'
Steve is also not hopeful about the future and is tense and discouraged most of the time. He just wants to be able to go back to work.
Their son was taken off unemployment benefits because the Department of Social Security said he was not looking for work. However, Mary says he has tried everything but can't get a job because he doesn't have the transport to get to the jobs.
'He gets depressed and has lost all confidence,' she said. 'They've got jobs in the paper for him but you've got to have experience. He hasn't had a job for a couple of years. He gets very moody and then that upsets the family. They get into trouble because there are a lot of them not working around here.'
The fact that this child had no money of his own caused serious stress in a family so short of money. He would like to do a training course but is prevented by many things including his own lack of education, the family's financial situation and the lack of suitable courses that he can get to. He is almost totally unable to go to places of entertainment because he has no money at all.
White Collar Unemployed
'Karen' and 'Craig' are in their early thirties and have two young children. They both have good qualifications in a professional field. Craig had always had an excellent job and derived great pride from this. Karen has not worked for five years as she has been at home looking after the children.
Craig has been unemployed for two months following the collapse of his company as a result of excessive bad debts. At the time of the collapse, the couple had house and business debts exceeding $100,000 and owed $10,000 on Craig's car. During the interview, this car was sold because they could not afford the repayments. The couple have a second car which is almost 20 years old.
Craig and Karen moved from interstate in the mid-eighties and built their own house so they could have it just as they liked. They chose a rural setting and built a four-bedroom house which was close to the school to which they send the older child. When the business failed, they could not pay any bills for some time and had to get financial help from family.
Craig has applied for one job since being unemployed and is registered with the CES. He is frustrated by the lack of positions available and has found the CES to be of little help. He says his unemployment has made it tough money- wise. The children find it hard to understand that they can't have things. He says they may have to sell the house if he does not find work soon. Both Karen and Craig are sometimes anxious and annoyed and are not hopeful about the future.
In this issue
- Changing families in changing societies
- Trapped in poverty: The difficulties of sole mothers
- Living day to day: Families in recession
- Stepfathers in children's lives
- Matrimonial property reform
- Families and young people in Australia: Issues for research
- Family skills training program
- Family day care: A home away from home?
- Housing costs and unemployed families
- A man's place...? Reconstructing family realities
- Sharing the caring: Rethinking current policies
- Big business, small business, family business