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J Health Soc Behav. 1990 Jun;31(2):123-40.

Hard times and vulnerable people: initial effects of plant closing on autoworkers' mental health.

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University of Maryland.


Large-scale 1987 General Motors plant shutdowns offered an unusual opportunity to study effects of actual and anticipated unemployment on mental health. Workers from four closing and 12 nonclosing plants (Ns = 831 and 766 respectively) were interviewed approximately three months before scheduled plant closings. Dependent variables were baseline frequencies of somatic, depressive, and anxiety symptoms. The quasi-experimental design made it possible to explore systematically the mental health problems of individual autoworkers as a function of their employment status, their demographic characteristics, and the interaction of the two. Three groups were formed by dividing workers at closing plants into those already laid off and those anticipating layoff; the third group consisted of workers in nonclosing plants. Results revealed a pattern of interaction between unemployment and demographic variables, showing differential vulnerability to job loss. Less educated blacks were especially affected; follow-up analyses showed that their more distressed mental health could not be attributed entirely to other, prior stressors.

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