Through the intimate stories of those seeking work, The Tolls of Uncertainty offers a startling look at the nation’s unemployment system—who it helps, who it hurts, and what, if anything, we can do to make it fair. Drawing on interviews with one hundred men and women who have lost jobs across Pennsylvania, Sarah Damaske examines the ways unemployment shapes families, finances, health, and the job hunt. Damaske demonstrates that commonly held views of unemployment are either incomplete or just plain wrong. Shaped by a person’s gender and class, unemployment generates new inequalities that cast uncertainties on the search for work and on life chances beyond the world of work, threatening opportunity in America.
Following in depth the lives of four individuals over the course of their unemployment experiences, Damaske offers insights into how the unemployed perceive their relationship to work. She reveals the high levels of blame that women who have lost jobs place on themselves, leading them to put their families’ needs above their own, sacrifice their health, and take on more tasks inside the home. This “guilt gap” illustrates how unemployment all too often exacerbates existing differences between men and women. Class privilege, too, gives some an advantage, while leaving others at the mercy of an underfunded unemployment system. Middle-class men are generally able to create the time and space to search for good work, but many others are bogged down by the challenges of poverty-level unemployment benefits and family pressures and fall further behind.
Timely and engaging, The Tolls of Uncertainty posits that a new path must be taken if the nation’s unemployed are to find real relief.