To read this content please select one of the options below:

“Coming Back to Who I Am”: Unemployment, Identity, and Social Support

Race, Identity and Work

ISBN: 978-1-78769-502-3, eISBN: 978-1-78769-501-6

Publication date: 7 November 2018


Job loss and long-term unemployment can have pervasive negative impacts on well-being. At its most extreme, unemployment is accompanied by feelings of shame, humiliation, insecurity, and worthlessness, as well as damage to cherished identities and narratives of self. Scholars have investigated how the unemployed attempt to repair these damaged identities, but little is known about how network members participate in the identity reconstruction process. Social support has been shown to ameliorate the negative psychological effects of unemployment, but studies have also found that the unemployed are reluctant to ask for assistance and often perceive network members as a source of stress rather than as a source of support. To understand why social support can be experienced both positively and negatively by the unemployed, we draw upon 84 in-depth qualitative interviews with men and women who experienced unemployment during the extended economic downturn associated with the Great Recession. We find that social support ameliorates unemployment when it bolsters identities important to recipients, and exacerbates unemployment when it undermines such identities. We also show how the unemployed respond to identity-threatening support: by avoiding it, rejecting it, or reframing it as reciprocity. Our analysis contributes new insights into the relationship between social support and identities, as well as a deeper understanding of the noneconomic costs of the slow economic recovery following the Great Recession.



Ibañez, L.M. and Lopez, S.H. (2018), "“Coming Back to Who I Am”: Unemployment, Identity, and Social Support ", Race, Identity and Work (Research in the Sociology of Work, Vol. 32), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 7-33.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019 Emerald Publishing Limited