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Family Matters No. 32 - August 1992

Families in unemployment

Don Edgar

Abstract

Facts about unemployment levels and take-up of emergency relief are presented to demonstrate how families are suffering in this, the worst period of unemployment since the Great Depression, and that family support is essential to alleviate long-term damage.

In this, the worst period of unemployment since the Great Depression, Australia's families should be the focus of concern.

There are some 175,800 young people aged 15-19 years looking for jobs; 188,600 in the 20-24 age group and 394,8000 in the 25-45 age group are unemployed; and there are 161,300 job seekers over the age of 45.

Most of these people live in families, and their suffering is shared. It is whole families who go without, limit food intake, close the house they've been working hard for, end up in disarray, divorce, in caravans or with no home at all.

Some 600,000 Australian children have neither parent employed. Their life chances are under threat and family support is essential to alleviate long-term damage.

  • The unemployment rate has hit a post-war high of 11.1 per cent.
  • In July, 963,500 Australians were looking for work.
  • Since February, 10,000 people have contacted the Brotherhood of St Laurence in Melbourne seeking clothing and furniture, compared with 5800 people during the same time last year.
  • An average of 1100 families a month are seeking food vouchers and accommodation at the Salvation Army's family welfare centre in Bourke Street, Melbourne. Recently the number has soared to 1600 families a month.
  • Victoria's 64 community advice bureaux received 17,500 calls for emergency relief in the first three months of this year, compared with 12,000 for the same period last year.

We now have 300,000 long-term unemployed - that is, out of work for 12 months or more. The dignity of such people was evident at the Liberal Jobs Forum in Sydney on 4 July: the 47-year-old accountant in suit and tie, retrenched, over 50 job applications knocked back and ready to deliver advertising junk mail; the 42- year-old Indian civil engineer whose qualifications are not recognised here, 1000 job applications later and ready to wash cars because he feels it undignified to take money for doing nothing; the two teenagers, demoralised but with help from the Brotherhood of St Laurence trying to keep on applying for work despite the knockbacks.

This is the family face of unemployment, and case studies are multiplying (see the article 'Living Day to Day' in the last issue of Family Matters).

The unemployed are individuals and it is their self-respect and dignity that are most damaged. However, they are also members of families, and policies to support families need as high a priority as economic, structural market 'rationalism'. We need an economic humanism to replace the insult of being expected to 'bear the pain before we get the gain'.