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August 17, 2021

The unwritten shame of job loss

By Jason Buckland, Sympatico / MSN Finance

“She recently put $1,000 worth of dental work on hold for lack of insurance. The pain of her cracked crown gnaws at her, a daily reminder of her predicament.”

By nature, humans are pretty proud beings. A recession, then, is the worst thing for us.

In case you haven’t had the pleasure, there’s just no substitute for the embarrassment you feel after a job lay-off.

After my own this past February, I found different people dealt with the news in different ways. To be sure, though, there was no escaping the helplessness and relative humiliation associated with losing your job.

And that’s why I found this feature in the Washington Post so fascinating. In perhaps no North American city is the eternal struggle for status more prevalent than D.C., so what better case to study the psychological effects of job loss than the power capital of the continent?

Writer Annie Gowen follows recent layoff Clinton Cole, who continued to wake up each morning at the same time, dress himself in one of his designer suits and pull his privileged car out of his privileged driveway.

Only, despite what he meant his neighbours to think, he was off to work no longer, rather a park or library with an Internet hotspot to surf his day away.

Cole kept up the ruse for months after his dismissal from a manager’s post at a prominent IT firm, too ashamed to tell anyone but family his plush income stream had been severed.

“In this area, in the shadow of our nation’s capital, so much is about appearances,” he told the Post. “There was fear that other kids wouldn’t play with your kids. You won’t be invited to parties or be ostracized. Or that others would distance themselves from you because you might need help they won’t be able to provide. All those thoughts race through your mind.”

Indeed, the shame of an unforgiving economy wasn’t limited to Cole, as the Post explores quite well. Not only do social workers admit counselling the unemployed who still fork over expensive country club fees to keep up the illusion of wealth, the paper discusses the feelings of “disgrace and fear” suffered by workers in the Japanese recession of the 90s – many of whom committed suicide rather than admit to their families they were out of work.

It’s hard to envision such extremes in Canada, but such a culture of discredit has undoubtedly been forced on thousands since the mass layoffs started last year.

How we’ve all coped varies case-by-case, yeah, but it’s been this unwritten psychological blitz that stands as one of the more unreported stories of the recession.



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

James HaversJames Havers

James is the senior editor of MSN Money living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo),,, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...