Why We Love to Think the Jobless Are Lazy

Mythology, narcissism, and 'raw fear' drive conceit
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted Dec 19, 2010 7:27 AM CST
Job-seekers line up at a career fair in San Diego.   (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

(Newser) – In America, we like to think that the unemployed are to blame for their joblessness—that, in the words of Ben Stein, they’re “people with poor work habits and poor personalities." But any economist will tell you that’s not true, writes David Sirota in Salon. The real problem: there are “five applicants for every one job opening.” So why do we keep believing the jobless are lazy—that, in essence, "15 million jobless Americans are George Costanzas"?

Sirota gives three reasons. First, we tend “to believe the world is inherently fair”—it’s in our “up-by-the-bootstraps” mythology. Second, we’re narcissistic: we put down the unemployed and let the “still-employed” feel “better than the jobless.” Third, “raw fear.” If we believe the unemployed are at fault for their position, then those with jobs can feel “a calming sense of control:” I won’t get laid off because I’ll make better choices. The real danger with these false narratives is that they distract us from demanding better economic policies, writes Sirota. Click here for the full column.

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