Getting local residents, and in particular, Bermudians, back to work has become increasingly critical to reduce the family deconstructs that result from long-term unemployment.

Bermuda had already felt the impact of a high cost economy prior to 2008, as many residents have had to work more than one job to meet basic needs. Others have found themselves without the necessary skills to secure jobs in this information technology environment, forcing some business owners to seek qualified employees overseas.

For a significant period, Bermuda was seeing the direct effect of 50% of the public school population leaving school without a high school certificate. We are currently battling the various gang environments that have resulted from this lost sense of belonging and contributing to society.

The above conditions, along with the present long-term unemployment for newly unemployed sets up a very dangerous environment in our community.

Long-term unemployment will affect residents in numerous ways. If an individual is out of work for more than six months, the following issues can arise. There is impact on self-esteem and self-worth. Mental and physical health is affected. Adults may be less attractive to employers the longer they remain without work, with some employers questioning why the individual has not found work. Long-term unemployment can lead to bouts of depression, fueled by doubts of one’s abilities and skills. Higher hospital bills are likely during long-term unemployment with the lack of insurance, and the lack of preventive health care supported by insurance.

Adults who are out of employment for long periods can become too easily dependent upon financial assistance. It becomes a struggle to continue to seek employment, and eventually an individual or family will settle for financial assistance as a welcome relief. During long-term unemployment, many adults may lose contacts and peer networks. Reemployed adults will often earn less as skills have eroded over time.

Children within the family system can become malnourished, losing weight and entering school without proper nourishment, rest, and with concern for the family’s wellbeing. School academic performance drops and in some instances, older children may drop out of school to find small jobs to help the family.

The community begins to see higher crime rates with long-term unemployment, as individuals are struggling to meet basic needs, and may resort to forms of stealing and theft. Domestic violence increases in families, as breadwinners are embarrassed and frustrated at not being able to take care of basic family needs. Mortgages are put at risk, and possible increases in foreclosures. As the cycle continues, evictions are more likely, as well. Homelessness begins by loss of ability to pay for home, or shelter, and an increase in alcohol or drug addiction.

The wellbeing of families in Bermuda cannot be taken for granted. The lack of wellbeing for ANY family due to the loss of employment and the ongoing lack of finding work will deepen the social conditions that we are already battling, and will ultimately cost the country millions of dollars in restoration. The adults who have struggled through unemployment are often raising children who are witnessing the deleterious and destructive effects of being without meaningful income. This jeopardizes the future of our children and their wellbeing and development. We can ill-afford such results.

During difficult economic environments, smart communities invest in the unemployed population through job-training initiatives, skill-building, and entrepreneurship training. This strengthening of the work force has the knock on effect of demonstrating a work ethic to children for them to model. Adults need to have options, the work force needs to be strengthened, and the local population must be positioned to take the new jobs that will hopefully come on line as the economy strengthens.

Being employed raises self-esteem, builds skills, establishes peer networks, and builds careers. It gives one a sense of dignity to be able to care for oneself and one’s family. It strengthens communities. No One should feel left out and without hope. The practical reality is that may take some time to restore the jobs strength to Bermuda. We need to take this opportunity to get residents’ trained-up’, and ready to take the positions that will become available.

By Martha Dismont

Martha Dismont is the Executive Director of Family Centre; which she founded in 1990. Originally from New York, Mrs Dismont worked as a Social Worker for the State of New York. She was widowed shortly after moving to the island and has a 27-year-old Bermudian daughter.

She has spent most of her time in Bermuda developing Family Centre, and serving on various community boards, including Bermuda National Standards Committee, the Board of Education and the Sustainable Development Roundtable.

She is founder and currently Chairperson of the Inter Agency Committee for Children and Families, which includes an initiative to establish an island-wide continuum of care for youth and families, and a National Children’s Agenda of Priorities. She is Co-Chair of the Inter Agency Gang Task Force Community Response Team.