Tod MacDonald is in transition. Since the 55-year-old Windsor resident lost his job at the Electro-Motive plant in February, the former tool room machine operator is training to be a hospital dietary aid.
“The darkest period was when you started investigating, looking into second careers, there really isn’t a lot out there,” he said, “I’m totally well aware that for every ad out there are 1,500 people applying.”
Unemployment takes its toll, said MacDonald. “There were marriage breakups. The wives didn’t understand why you wouldn’t go out and get a job,” he said. “One guy in the plant tried to take his own life.”
That toll is epidemic within the manufacturing industry, according to a study sponsored by the Canadian Auto Workers union which found laid-off workers struggle financially, experience health problems, marital woes and sleep disorders.
Some of the hardest-hit workers are women, who spent more time looking for another job, and were less likely to find something full-time and well paying.
Finding Their Way, released Thursday morning, is the second installment in a study looking at the lives of 260 manufacturing industry workers who were laid off in 2009.
One third of those reported finding full time permanent jobs with 30 hours or more per week since they were laid off. The rest were employed on short term contracts, or more casual jobs with variable hours.
One in six said they held multiple jobs.
Hourly wages had decreased for most workers. Almost one-half reported earning at least $10 less per hour than in their previous jobs.
“A significant number of participants report poor outcomes ranging from feelings of depression, disrupted sleep, physical inactivity, elevated stress and general deterioration in mental and physical health resulting from their layoff,” said the report, compiled by Sam Vrankulj of McMaster University.
That was reinforced by comments from some workers who were part of the survey.
All participated in the study on the condition of anonymity.
“My marriage fell apart. I started drinking heavy. I’m on medication for depression,” said one worker.
“My health went downhill,” said a second worker. “I know it’s the stress of losing my job and worrying about what my retirement is going to look like.”
The study found that 45 per cent of the workers surveyed had difficulty sleeping in the wake of their layoffs, while 31 per cent reported their health had deteriorated.
A greater proportion of women than men reported being in financial crisis during their layoff, having to rely on emergency loans and other forms of support from friends and family members, wrote Vrankulj.
“Approximately 1 in 8 women participating in this study report utilizing a payday loan service to make ends meet,” he said.
Beatrix Dart, a management professor at the University of Toronto and executive director of the Initiative for Women in Business, said women can have a harder time returning to the workforce because they are often seeking more flexibility in a job —to manage family commitments at home — than an entry-level position allows.
“Women find it much harder to commit themselves 100 or 120 per cent to a position,” she said.
Sagar Parikh, professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto, said being unemployed is a major blow to a person’s self-esteem.
“Working is a primary source of identity, it’s not just about money, it’s about who we are,” said Parikh.
Living without the routine of a job has its own set of complications, said Parikh. “When we go to work it imposes a schedule on us which is actually healthier than being on an island in Tahiti,” he said.
To fight feelings of worthlessness, Parikh said people have to take a multi-pronged approach.
“There are many strategies we have to use beyond medications that involve building an alternative daily schedule with meaningful activities,” he said.
Still, says MacDonald, the dietician in training, even meaningful activities can’t replace a job.
“The chores dry up, you find yourself looking at the clock, it’s one in the afternoon,” he said, “I don’t want to start watching MASH and having naps yet.”