Policy ForumEconomics and Psychology

Linking job loss, inequality, mental health, and education

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Science  16 Jun 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6343, pp. 1127-1128
DOI: 10.1126/science.aam5347

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Summary

National politics in the United States, Great Britain, France, and elsewhere have focused attention on the struggles of people in regions where jobs have been destroyed by globalization and technology. Many residents of these areas report anger and frustration, whether or not they have actually suffered job loss, fearing that their children will not do as well as they have. When researchers began to identify these forces increasing economic inequality (1), labor economists argued that intergenerational upward mobility should increase hand-in-hand with increasing inequality. This claim was predicated on the notion that working-class youth, rather than following their parents' footsteps to the now-closed factory, would pursue higher education and join the “knowledge economy.” Our work integrating economics and developmental psychology, however, suggests that local job losses can both worsen adolescent mental health and lower academic performance and, thus, can increase income inequality in college attendance, particularly among African-American students and those from the poorest families.