Unemployment and social problems

Unemployment was a new phenomenon to which people had to become accustomed. Unknown in Soviet times, it became commonplace in the early 1990s. Unemployment grew sharply between 1991 and 1993, continuing to increase until the turn of the century when it affected 14 per cent of the work force.

During the first half of the 1990s, unemployment levels were similar for men and for women but, during the second half of the decade, and in contrast to most other European countries, the male unemployment level exceeded that for women. Investigations have revealed that when women become unemployed, they are more reluctant to look for alternative work than are men, and simply stay at home, thereby removing themselves from the unemployment register. By the end of the 1990s, however, the level of unemployment amongst young people, (aged between 15 and 24), had become a serious problem, exceeding that of the population as a whole.

It is also important to note that in the early part of the decade, the nature of unemployment was largely short-term, for up to six months, but that later, the level of long-term unemployment, for over a year, grew continuously. Those affected by long-term unemployment were often over 50 years old, as well as those without professional education, or with skills which were incompatible with the needs of the labour market.

During the 1990s, there emerged a group of demoralised people who had lost all hope of finding work, so had stopped looking for it, even though they would readily have taken up work, had it been available.

The growth of unemployment or, stated more generally, increasing complexity in the labour market, gave rise to a number of social problems. Part of the population experienced a fall in its living standards, its health deteriorated, (as shown by studies conducted by J. Uibu), the incidence of crime increased, as did drug addiction, and there were more suicides. This article briefly addresses such serious problems.

Specialists, such as J. Saar, have established a clear link between crime and unemployment affecting young people. Police statistics reveal that criminal activity is highest amongst youths aged between 16 and 17, whilst most violent crimes are committed by 18 to 24 year olds. These are also the age groups which were hit hardest by the growth of unemployment during the 1990s.

According to research conducted by A. Allaste and M. Lagerspetz, drug abuse became more common after the restoration of independence, a development which has been attributed to rapid changes in economic and cultural values. With the opening up of borders, drug availability increased, whilst drug-taking was perceived as being a western habit, and was therefore deemed inherently positive. The potential consequences of drug abuse were initially ignored. Only recently, for example, has the link between drugs and AIDS been seriously addressed in Estonia.

Tööpuudus. Töötuse ja enesetappude vaheline seos A.Värnik, a suicidologist, has demonstrated a relationship between the incidence of suicide and social change. Social change most keenly affects the lives of middle-aged men, it is claimed, since these are the people who society looks up to for the provision of solutions to problems, for ensuring security, and for achieving success. An inability to live up to such expectations runs the risk of psychological burn-out. Suicide levels in Estonia and in the Baltic states, exceed the European average.

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