What do unemployed do all day? Not much, study finds

What do unemployed people do all day? Do they sit around, collecting a government check, living a life of leisure? Or are they hard at work trying to find work? What exactly do they do with all of that free time since they're no longer working?

They lay around and file their nails, of course.

At least that's the basics of a recent paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, which found that the unemployed spend their time in leisure and personal maintenance. When there's a recession, however, they're spending most of it doing household chores.

Before I get on a rant about what I've been doing during my six months of unemployment, and how I'm doing anything but enjoying it as much as a trip to Hawaii, let's get back to the research by these economists.

Using diaries that they gave to the unemployed to write down exactly what they were doing every minute of the day (which is work by itself), the researchers found that they didn't do any more household work than employed people. Again, this is happening when the country isn't in a recession and unemployment is extremely high.

I find that funny, because almost every out-of-work person I know, and unfortunately I know a lot of them, tell me that they've spent some time getting around to house repairs and related odd jobs at home that they couldn't get to while working full-time. Me? I've straightened out our home office and have raked a few leaves. Otherwise, I'm working a little part-time and almost constantly looking for full-time work. And helping a lot more than I did before I lost my job with the daily care of our 4-year-old daughter, which should itself be classified and paid for as full-time work, and everyone should call their parents right now and thank them for the work they did raising them.

But when unemployment rises fast, such as in a recession, the jobless spend more time on "household production" and don't spend as much leisure time as before. The report doesn't get into why that is, but my guess is (warning: rant really gets going here) it could be the nagging feeling that's constantly in your gut to find a full-time job with benefits so you can pay your mortgage and your kids aren't living on the street that really gets you off your backside to at least do something. Working around the house, even fixing a door, is at least "work," right? And when times are really bad and unemployment is above 7%, for crying out loud, digging into the savings account for a trip to Hawaii just doesn't seem like a smart expense.

So yes, I'd expect fewer unemployed people to spend their time on leisure and personal maintenance during a recession, and spending that time working around the house. Or maybe looking for a job. That should count as a full-time job. It's not contributing much to the economy, unless you count trips to the post office, but it beats asking them to fill out a diary of what they watched on TV today.

Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at www.talesofanunemployeddad.blogspot.com

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