Working Capital - Mission Blog

<<Mission Blog Home Posted: 02-16-2015

How the Unemployed Spend Their DaysFor the majority of Americans the largest portion of most days is dedicated to our jobs and careers. Though for the millions of those who are unemployed their days are filled with a variety of vastly different activities, some of which you may find surprising.  

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) conducts an annual survey called the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) which asks thousands of “primary-age” Americans (adults between 25-54) to chronicle a single day in their lives minute-by-minute. While the ATUS has given us somewhat of a generalized view of what the “average” unemployed individual does with his/her day, let’s look at a snapshot of how New York Times article says the unemployed spend their time:

  • watching television (for every one person searching for employment at a given time there were on average six that were watching television)
  • leisure activities (like surfing the internet and reading for pleasure
  • sleeping (the unemployed get on average a little over an hour more of sleep than their employed contemporaries)
  • caring for others like children or the elderly (this was prevalent in the female population surveyed)

While there are a decent number who spend large amounts of time and energy searching for jobs or continuing their education, there are clearly many who simply sit in front of the TV, socialize, or take part in other leisure activities.

Naturally, this raises several questions:  Have they given up looking for work?  If so, why?  And, how can we improve motivation?

According to a poll performed by the staffing firm Express Employment Professionals cited in a 2014 LA Times article 47% of unemployed Americans have given up  looking for work.  Many of them blame the poor state of the economy for their current situation even though the jobless rate dropped to 6% in 2014. About 20% say that they have a disability keeping them from finding employment. Still others say that they are unwilling to change their current situation (ex: go back to school or relocate for an open position) in order to gain employment. 

There are some that blame jobless benefits for the current state of the unemployed.  They believe that the assistance given to the unemployed is just enough to help them survive without working and hinders their motivation to search for full time employment.  With the economy rebounding and job growth improving, perhaps the inactive unemployed will begin to see opportunity instead of despair.  They just need a little help and motivation. The solution is showing them that there is opportunity and providing them with the skills necessary to find employment in today’s changing workforce landscape.

Fortunately there are many NGOs that can help individuals who face barriers to employment and self-sufficiency. Organizations like Goodwill of Greater Washington provide free job training and education programs to individuals with disabilities and disadvantages that can help them get back into the workforce. 

For more information on these programs please visit our free job training page.

Working Capital, Goodwill mission blog author
This article was written by: Shanna Gidwani
Digital Media Manager


  1. Debra says:

    Wow is that what you think!!
    I have been looking for work daily for over 2 years. I am not married and have no one to fall back on at 51 I spend hours each day on the computer looking for work. I also go into places to see if I can speak with the hiring manager I’ve lost my home, most of my belongings that I’ve sold trying to survive I was 2 shakes from homelessness with no where to turn. I took a live in position as a senior caregiver and the daughter that hired me never made good on any of her promises I did NOT get paid, when I tried to get paid, I was ignored. I contacted an attorney friend who advised me to email her since she was avoiding me. I was hours away from my hometown of Arlington. I was stuck and I finally got her to get me 1200 I moved into a home share in the country. I could not find work and got evicted I was frantic and scared. I contacted churches, and human services for help. I was only allowed to get food stamps, no benefits for the singles I packed everything I could in my car and moved into an extended stay. I bid my room 3 days at a time at Never knowing if I had the same room with my belongings while still looking for work and pounding pavement in Sterling, VA. Trying to stay in faith which was hard I contacted an ex-coworker. He allowed my animals and me to stay with him respecting my stress level I took various part-time positions that promised more hours then they gave. Being now 51 it has been almost impossible for me to find work and I am not being picky. I grew up in a poor family and did not have the chance to go to college. I’ve been a flight attendant, supported the US Army’s recruiting mission on a contract. I’ve done conference planning, hostess and have worked retail.

    I spent one day a week at the Department of human services in Arlington County, I see a therapist, a job street counselor, and a psychiatrist monthly for anxiety and depression medication.

    I have also gone to improvement classed, revamped my resume with the county, take refresher computer courses as well as networking. Still no work. My resume looks terrible with the lapses I do volunteer for various animal rescues as they are my passion.

    I don’t know how long it’s been since I could hold my head up high without a front.

    This is also why people watch TV, sleep late, over eat, and contemplate subside. I’ve been working since I was 15 paying into the system and I can’t find a job I’m worn out but am not given completely up, I can’t I do occasionally read or watch TV. My therapist is always telling me to be good to myself, it’s hard to relax. I’ve been sick with severe bronchitis and asthma and had to go to the ER a few times

    I am not sitting around watching TV or doing leisurely activities. The only leisurely thing I do is feed the birds and the squirrels outside after I feed my animals I am totally broke and recently my car got repossessed Now I am limited on locations for work by bus.

    I am angry too a fault as I did not bring this on myself no savings, no retirement. My therapist told me to apply for disability. For 2 years I have really been trying and starting to loose my wits and feel like a statistic. If it weren’t for my animals I would have not made it to 51. When a person continually tries, they start feeling flawed and hopelessness sets in.

    I need a break, I want to work!!

  2. Debra says:

    I’ve also applied with Good Will, nothing!!

  3. Shanna Gidwani says:

    Hi Debra, we are so sorry to hear about the challenges and barriers you have to employment. Goodwill is here to help people like you. Would it be alright if I connected you to someone at our Arlington Career Campus? You can find out more about our services here: Please let me know as I’d like to connect you to someone as soon as possible!

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