Somewhere along the spectrum of marital bliss to spousal abuse lies an uncharted land of silent suffering. When bad times hit good people, we know what happens. Tempers flare, harsh words are spoken, and the ensuing silences become unbearable. But what happens when those bad times last for months, if not years?
For the long-term unemployed, money troubles escalate daily. Options vanish. The walls -- and the bill collectors -- close in quickly. Outbursts become more intense. In the sullen silences that follow, spouses and children steer clear. Domestic tranquility is shattered, often for days on end.
The damage -- and the sullen silence -- extends far beyond the confines of a single house or apartment. Everyone knows what is happening, not in detail but in broad strokes. And yet, no one breaks the code of silence.
If there were visible scars, broken heirlooms or public disturbances, that would be different. Then calls would be made, police reports filled and restraining orders issued. Domestic violence is, after all, punishable by law. But domestic violence is a far cry from the loss of domestic tranquility.
When 31 million Americans are idled by this Grave Recession, why do we remain mute bystanders? Why do we not act when the tension levels rise within the families of the unemployed?
America's jobless are not contagious. They are not lepers. They are not lazy. They are our progeny, our good neighbors and our best friends. What they are going through is a living hell. And that inferno burns white hot for the women and their children experiencing this recession up close and personal.
In each family with a jobless adult, the pressure on the adult female is intense. If she's working and her spouse is not working, then the entire family dynamic changes. Tensions rise as money gets tight then disappears. Self-worth turns to self-loathing for her spouse as the months go by. And the emotional toll rises as children, grandparents and in-laws sense (if not actually see) their downward spiral.
If she is unemployed and her spouse is working, that $350 unemployment check is 60 percent below the average weekly wage, and puts her family on a down escalator from the middle class. So the bills don't get paid on time, the credit cards are maxed out, and cutting back on expenses becomes obligatory. However, the loss of emotional security that comes from having a job is what causes so much unseen pain within the family circle -- and so much turmoil as the kids and relatives are sucked into the flaming vortex.
And if a single mom is laid-off, simple survival is priority one. Unemployment benefits, COBRA subsidies, food stamps and soup kitchens become life savers. Vaporized assets, repossessed cars, canceled credit cards, foreclosed homes and evictions still leave unmet obligations. Deadbeat dads provide emotional scars, trails of excuses, no forwarding addresses and not enough support to ease the financial crisis.
The only constant is the children. Least able to understand the economic turmoil, their security blankets are worn thin as unseen centrifugal forces rip their families apart. They sense their mother's anxiety and their nightmares grow more vivid.
Women and their children are the most vulnerable -- and yet, often the most valiant -- Americans in this recession. The stressors they operate under are excruciating. And their traumas are felt by their extended families. For women who are caring for their adult parents and their own kids, the emotional trauma ripples across even wider populations.
Relentlessly the psychological toll mounts. In May, Rutgers' Center for Workforce Development released No End in Sight: The Agony of Prolonged Unemployment. Its researchers found:
Eight in ten (88%) of those unemployed and looking for work in March 2010 report having stress over their situation; 68% say they feel uneasy or restless, and three-fifths (60%) have experienced changed sleeping patterns or loss of sleep. Fully half say they avoid social contact with family, friends and acquaintances, while 44% have now lost contact with close friends. Forty-three percent say they are quick to anger and 13% of the unemployed now report substance dependency.
The Rutgers panel study pointed out the obvious: America's jobless live with an emotional upheaval only a return to work can erase.
According to Leo Hindery at the New America Foundation, America needs to create 22 million new jobs in order to be fully employed in real terms. Forty percent of the jobless are adult women. So getting nine million women back to work is how We, the People, can ensure domestic tranquility.
But first, we must break the code of silence. We must talk openly about how women and their children are being ravaged by this recession. We must applaud, publicly, heroic efforts to keep their families intact and their children fed. Then, each of us -- from concerned co-workers to community-minded CEOs, from the meekest citizen to Members of Congress -- must strive to put those nine million women back to work.