How Long-Term Unemployment Decreases Life Expectancy

The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that more than 40 percent of America’s unemployed have been out of work for six months or more. The Associated Press reported recently that the long-term unemployed are facing increased hiring bias, with employers refusing to take on workers who have been out of work for a longer stretch of time.

There are several deleterious effects of long-term unemployment, but the New York Times’ Binyamin Applebaum highlighted a particularly harrowing one — increased mortality rates. According to a study by Columbia’s Till von Wachter and the Chicago Federal Reserve’s Daniel Sullivan, long-term unemployment can knock up to 18 months off of life expectancy:

Mortality rates in the year after displacement are 50%–100% higher than would otherwise have been expected. The effect on mortality hazards declines sharply over time, but even twenty years after displacement, we estimate a 10%–15% increase in annual death hazards. If such increases were sustained indefinitely, they would imply a loss in life expectancy of 1.0–1.5 years for a worker displaced at age forty.

The authors noted that “several economic models of health determination predict that a decline in lifetime resources should raise mortality. Our empirical findings are consistent with a reduction in such resources leading to reduced investments in health or chronic stress, which, in turn, lead to a smaller, but longer term increase in the mortality hazard.”


Applebaum highlights other studies showing other negative effects of long-term unemployment, including loss of lifetime earnings, lower earnings for the children of unemployed workers, and even one study purporting to find that workers gradually lose skills, including their level of literacy. And of course, as the Congressional Budget Office noted, long-term unemployment is “also correlated with deteriorating mental and physical health.”