The state of being unable to sell one's labour-power in the labour-market despite being willing to do so. In practice, unemployment is difficult to identify and measure, because willingness to be employed is partly affected by the extent and nature of demand for one's services. As a result, official definitions imposed by government employment agencies are affected by political theories about the causes of being unwilling or unable to be employed, on the one hand; and, on the other, by the rules allowing registration as out of work and eligible for such welfare benefits as may be on offer.
Unemployment was used by C. Wright Mills as a graphic illustration of the distinction between private troubles and public issues which he considered basic to sociology. Research on the unemployed has repeatedly shown that unemployment is rarely explicable simply as a private or individual problem of insufficient motivation and aptitude. It is, rather, a public issue caused by the failure of market processes.
Economists distinguish various causes of unemployment, the chief two of which are the structural decline of industry in a region or nation, and cyclical variations in economic activity. The former generates shifts in the occupational structure which render particular skills obsolete, as for example might follow technological innovation, changes in the market for goods and services, or the decision by companies to close or relocate their operations. The latter occurs when firms lay off workers (perhaps temporarily) during periods of economic recession. Other forms of unemployment include frictional unemployment (which is due to workers voluntarily switching jobs) and seasonal unemployment (when a change in the seasons reduces demand for particular types of workers, for example those involved in agriculture, or in the recreation and leisure industries).
Unemployment is a major factor in poverty , especially where the unemployed experience spells of joblessness alternating with so-called sub-employment, that is, low paid and uncongenial work with a high degree of insecurity of tenure. The unemployed must also endure the stigma of being unable to conform to the prevailing work ethic of Western societies-despite their own typically strong desire to find work.
There is an enormous sociological literature on the process of becoming unemployed and its social and individual consequences. A good place to start is Marie Jahoda's Employment and Unemployment (1982). An excellent series of empirical studies-examining the relationships between unemployment and (among other things) attitudes to work, household work strategies, psychological health, marital dissolution, welfare, deprivation, and involvement in social networks-is reported in, Social Change and the Experience of Unemployment (1993). See also under-employment.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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