What are the stereotypes of the unemployed?

Lazy. Dead beat. Poor providers. Irresponsible. Moochers even.

But the recession has changed the game up. So again I ask, what are the stereotypes of the unemployed?

I was out to dinner catching up with an old friend last week after a year of not seeing each other. It was one of those nights where the stories were comedic and our wine glasses were full. Youth and high energy were our muses for the evening.

We were briefly interrupted by an old acquaintance from way back who stopped to say hello. The customary how-you-doings and who-you-be-with chatter ensued and as it was happening, I noticed my boy—over the span of the five-minute conversation—deflate.

I am not being metaphorical in saying this. His shoulders slumped over, his chin slowly made its way to his chest, and his cheeks sunk in. I could almost hear the high pitched “whoosh” balloon sound coming from his direction.

I found out later that it was talking about being unemployed that crushed my buddy.   He has two degrees and was let go by his firm just over six months ago.

“I guess it sort of felt like I was a zero talking about it,” he later explained to me.  “I didn’t want her to think I was just some lazy dude.”


That dinner had me thinking about the stereotypes that we place on the unemployed.  How do we re-evaluate the connotation behind the word?  My buddy is not unique with or without his degrees. We all know enough people from different educational levels who are struggling to find a full-time job.

Pop culture has a number of varying references of how we look at the unemployed. Take Jazz for example; Will Smith’s best friend from the 90s hit-sitcom, “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”

Jazz never seemed to have a job and it can be ambiguously assumed he never went to college. He was characterized as a moocher, seemed lazy and was somewhat dim-witted (with the recurring gag of him being kicked out of the house). Is Jazz the example of how the unemployed are seen or is he an extreme caricature for comedy’s sake?

There was also Lynn from “Girlfriends” who was a career student and abhorred the idea of getting a “real” job. But we loved her free-spirit. And then there was Denise Huxtable, a college drop-out, who skipped from job to job, a clear juxtaposition of her successful parents.  How was the unemployment of these two characters viewed?

The difference between those fictional characters and many recent graduates is that Jazz, Lynn and Denise each had the option of buckling down and getting a job if they wanted.  Many recent graduates don’t have that luxury. So many of those characteristics donned on them, don’t fit us.

The recession has changed things. And I will be redundant in saying the black population is suffering hardest because of it. National labor statistics put black unemployment at 16 percent for September 2011, a good 7 percentage points higher than the 9.1 percent national average.  That number includes college and non-college educated people.

“I’m so sick of people acting like a degree is a magical cure-all,” a commenter in my last article said. “So many people with degrees are BARELY working at fast food places.”

But in fact, it does make a difference. Though not broken down further by race, statistics show that only 4.2 percent of those with a Bachelor’s degree or higher are unemployed. This compares to the 9.7 percent of those with a high school diploma and 14 percent of those without a high school diploma (September 2011).

The degree apparently makes a difference, YET the unemployment rate for each group has increased through the recession.

What these numbers show is that each group is struggling. The unemployed today are both educated and uneducated. They are male and female. They are responsible and deadbeats. Despite their various difference, one thing is clear: There are no jobs. And whether you have no degrees or three degrees, the job recruiter is not calling either of you.


So how do you make sure that you are never placed with those negative stereotypes? If you are still job-hunting, keep busy, not just for your sanity, but also your resume as well. Volunteer. Set up informational interviews. Take that unpaid internship. Meet new people. Take multiple part time jobs.  Side hustle the side hustle. You have time, now what are you doing with it?

The guy sitting across the restaurant table from me was no Jazz. And neither are you.

What do you think the stereotypes of being unemployed are? Have they changed with the recession? If unemployed how do you think people judge you when meeting you?

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