Study: Older Job Seekers with Community Ties May Stay Unemployed Longer

February 20, 2020

Older people strongly connected to their community who lose their jobs may face longer periods of unemployment than those without such connections. That’s according to a recent study coauthored by Timothy Munyon, associate professor of management in the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville

The good news? “Some of these individuals may be diamonds in the rough,” Munyon says. “When employers hire them, they will adjust much more easily to reemployment because they are already well connected in the community.”

Munyon’s research team examined the drivers of long-term unemployment, specifically what exacerbates the length of joblessness. Studying a group of 234 such subjects, they found that community embeddedness, meaning non-work relationships and other attachments that people maintain in a given area, contributes to long-term unemployment.

“As people age, they become more selective about opportunities they can pursue or the work that they can take because of the attachments they are either unwilling or unable to leave behind,” Munyon says. Consequently, the stronger those community attachments grow as they age, the longer the duration of their unemployment. 

Such long-term unemployment is often seen as a stigma, sending up a red flag that keeps organizations from hiring these applicants. However, the team found an upside to healthy community ties among the unemployed. Upon reemployment, people with strong community embeddedness have greater job satisfaction, develop deeper job-based social attachments and are less likely to leave the job than those without such embeddedness. 

Munyon also noted that reemployment outcomes depended on how hard the unemployed had worked to regain employment. 

“Individuals who invested greater effort in job searches showed significantly better adjustments to work than those who invested less effort,” he says. “The ‘work’ of gaining another job is thus an important adjustment factor for these individuals.”

Because the above qualities are attributes employers generally like to see in employees, this study should help lower the warning flag about some individuals who have been unemployed for long periods.

Several factors suggest bringing these job seekers back into the workforce is imperative. Foremost, employment is important to their fiscal, relational, psychological and physiological welfare. 

Additionally, their employment is important to the economy. With near record low unemployment, the demand for more employees is high. Tapping previously unreachable workforce pools would be a boon. 

“The stakes are high,” Munyon says. “For organizations, the implications for this research on long-term unemployment are very important, because we need to figure out how to leverage this population: how can we get these people working again?”

Munyon suggests that since these individuals have been out of the workforce so long, employers should consider creating programs tailored to attract them to apply for jobs and to bolster skills and knowledge that may have atrophied during their unemployment. 

Also, local and federal governments should study this population’s particular challenges to develop policies directly aimed at moving them back into the workforce. Doing so would reduce their draw on tax-funded unemployment benefits and public assistance programs. 

“Their reemployment will lessen the burden on government with positive effects for society,” Munyon says.  

The study, “(Dys)functional attachments?: How community embeddedness impacts workers during and after long-term unemployment,” was published in the June 2019 issue of Journal of Vocational Behavior. Munyon, Laura T. Madden and Timothy M. Madden of East Carolina University and Eran Vigoda of the University of Haifa, Israel, are its coauthors.


Scott McNutt, business writer/publicist (865-974-3589,