Unemployment causes violence

For young people facing a tough job market, the chances of tragedies increase: suicide rates and violence spike

Topics: AlterNet, Unemployment, Aurora shooting, Guns, Gun Control, james holmes,

Unemployment causes violenceDozens of job seekers line up to enter a job fair in New York. (Credit: AP)
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

So far, there’s not a whole lot known about James Eagan Holmes, the 24-year old whom police say fatally shot 12 people and injured dozens more in a suburban Denver movie theater during the premiere of the new Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises.” As the nation grieves for the families of the victims, questions about the alleged perpetrator are swirling.


What we do know paints a picture of a young man who might have reasonably harbored high expectations of a successful life. He was raised in a well-tended middle class suburban neighborhood in San Diego. And he earned a scholarship to the University of California, Riverside where he distinguished himself, earning a B.S. neuroscience in the spring of 2010. Chancellor Timothy P. White told reporters Friday that “academically, he was at the top of the top” and demonstrated “obvious intellectual capacity.”

But after graduating, it seems that Holmes had difficulty finding a job. According to a neighbor, Tom Mai, he ended up working at McDonald’s.

“I felt bad for him because he studied so hard,” said Mai. “My brother said he looked kind of down; he seemed depressed.”

Holmes then went back to school to get another degree, enrolling as a doctoral student at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora. At the time of the shooting, he was in the process of withdrawing.

Reports of a syllabus suggest that Holmes may have studied substance abuse, schizophrenia, depression and other disorders. Apparently he was scheduled to present a paper on miRNA markers that contribute to neurological disorders in May. It is not yet known if Holmes had any history of mental illness himself.

Obviously, a person would have to be gravely disturbed to commit mass murder dressed in full ballistic gear and refer to himself as “The Joker,” the arch-enemy of Batman. Investigators will be searching Holmes’ history for clues as to what triggered a man with no prior record of violence to turn homicidal.

There may have been many factors that contributed to Holmes’ brutal rampage. And we may never know the full story. But the comments of the family neighbor raise a question: Did his experience in the job market contribute to Holmes’ state of mind? Certainly it is a fact that the economic crisis has taken a terrible toll on young people across America. The March 2012 unemployment rate for workers under age 25 was twice as high as the national average, standing at 16.4 percent. For young college graduates, the unemployment rate was 10.4 percent in 2010 and 9.4 percent over 2011, while the underemployment rate was 19.8 percent in 2010 and 19.1 percent in 2011.

Failure to find a first job or keep it for long can have damaging long-term consequences on the lives of our youth. Research shows that spells of unemployment for a young person often damage the person’s happiness and health for many years to come.

The California unemployment rate is among the highest in the nation. Of course, there were many young people other than Holmes who ended up working at McDonald’s after graduating with honors. And only one of them turned a movie theater into a slaughterhouse. But global reports of the connection between mental health and employment prospects are showing us that young people often suffer from feelings of self-loathing, failure, panic, and a whole range of mental health problems during times of high joblessness.

recent study by the National Institutes of Health found that “youth unemployment is associated with an increased vulnerability to psychiatric disorder.” Unemployment, the study found, can also influence the course of pre-existing disorders. We don’t know yet if this bears on the Holmes case. But we can be sure that for young people facing a tough job market, the chances of tragedies increase: suicide rates spike, as does the incidence of violence. Budget cuts, shredded safety nets, and flawed health insurance make finding help more and more difficult for those who are suffering distress.

Shooting sprees are a rare event, but in the wake of such a tragedy, we’ll need to look at all the broader societal conditions that may have interacted with and possibly exacerbated the state of a disturbed mind, from the easy availability of guns to access to adequate mental health services. And we’ll need to think long and hard about the stress created in young people for whom the combination of high unemployment and mental strain can become the potential catalyst for disaster.

Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet contributing editor. She is co-founder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of "Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture." Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 17
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    John Stanmeyer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Container City: Shipping containers, indispensable tool of the globalized consumer economy, reflect the skyline in Singapore, one of the world’s busiest ports.

    Lu Guang

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Man Covering His Mouth: A shepherd by the Yellow River cannot stand the smell, Inner Mongolia, China

    Carolyn Cole/LATimes

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Angry Crowd: People jostle for food relief distribution following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti

    Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    “Black Friday” Shoppers: Aggressive bargain hunters push through the front doors of the Boise Towne Square mall as they are opened at 1 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2007, Boise, Idaho, USA

    Google Earth/NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Suburban Sprawl: aerial view of landscape outside Miami, Florida, shows 13 golf courses amongst track homes on the edge of the Everglades.

    Garth Lentz

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Toxic Landscape: Aerial view of the tar sands region, where mining operations and tailings ponds are so vast they can be seen from outer space; Alberta, Canada

    Cotton Coulson/Keenpress

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Ice Waterfall: In both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, ice is retreating. Melting water on icecap, North East Land, Svalbard, Norway

    Yann Arthus-Bertrand

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Satellite Dishes: The rooftops of Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest cities, are covered with satellite dishes, linking residents to a globalized consumer culture.

    Stephanie Sinclair

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Child Brides: Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010.

    Mike Hedge

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million

    Google Earth/ 2014 Digital Globe

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Big Hole: The Mir Mine in Russia is the world’s largest diamond mine.

    Daniel Dancer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Clear-cut: Industrial forestry degrading public lands, Willamette National Forest, Oregon

    Peter Essick

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Computer Dump: Massive quantities of waste from obsolete computers and other electronics are typically shipped to the developing world for sorting and/or disposal. Photo from Accra, Ghana.

    Daniel Beltra

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Oil Spill Fire: Aerial view of an oil fire following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Gulf of Mexico

    Ian Wylie

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Slide 13

    Airplane Contrails: Globalized transportation networks, especially commercial aviation, are a major contributor of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo of contrails in the west London sky over the River Thames, London, England.

    R.J. Sangosti/Denver Post

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Fire: More frequent and more intense wildfires (such as this one in Colorado, USA) are another consequence of a warming planet.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>