Communicating about unemployment : a case study of the experience of unemployed youth in the Canberra Community

  • Nerelle Poroch

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This study is about the risk of youth unemployment in Canberra. It applies the perspective of Giddens and others on risk communication to how the hazards of self identity and self esteem, coping ability, the work ethic, family support and level of education, the ability to enjoy spare time, drugs and alcohol use, poverty and suicide affect young people's ability to cope. The study's communication perspective also integrates political with organizational, interpersonal and network as well as mass media communication. The study also draws from scholars who write from a sociological and psychological viewpoint and are frequently cited in communication sources. The loss of traditional work opportunities in the Public Service in Canberra is a significant barrier to a young person's integration into the community. Other barriers are the reduced work opportunities for young unskilled workers in a fledgling private market, the lack of adequate social and transport facilities, and family breakdown that can leave young Canberrans abandoned. The added factor of a global decline in participation in work in the last two decades has resulted in the general collapse in the full time jobs market, a growth of part time and casual employment, multiple job holding, and non-standard hours of work. Using historical research, participant observation, interview data and newspaper content analysis the study shows that the risk of unemployment for young people remains high notwithstanding the reduction in the overall unemployment rate. The media has played a significant role in forming community attitudes since the 1974 recession to the new millennium - a time of increasing government hardline policies towards welfare reform. Such policies have resulted in semi-privatisation of the employment services and tightening of welfare eligibility. Poor communication of these policies and coordination of their service delivery has resulted in public confusion about accessing these services. This is exacerbated in varying ways at the individual level depending on the extent that young people are affected by the hazards of unemployment. The government's answer to the problem of youth unemployment seeks to force young people to return to school and the family home. The outcomes of other reforms, such as the mutual obligation component of work for the dole, are yet to be determined. Young people want to work. However, the consequences of the present government reforms for young people are that they are 'parked' in education, denied access to full time employment and the privileges of adult status. All of these issues are reflected in the findings of the five research questions posed in the study detailed as follows: Research Question 1: What role does interpersonal communication play in the construction of a positive sense of self-concept among young unemployed people? Findings: Young people are vulnerable to social change. At the individual level, the risk of unemployment and its associated hazards is heightened when an individual's sense of self and identity is not properly developed and they are unable to forge a sense of belonging with society. Reduced job opportunities, lack of trust despite the strong will do to the 'right thing' have prevailed amongst the young. For some access to choice is exciting. For others who are overwhelmed or have dropped out the world can be a bleak place. For an increasing number of young people the absence of family support and education impinges on their interpersonal communication skills in developing coping strategies in their day-to-day existence outside society's norms of acceptance. Research Question la: How important is a positive sense of self-concept for young unemployed people in communicating with community support organizations? Findings: A positive sense of self-concept is paramount for young people communicating with Centrelink and the Job Network organizations in an environment where they are required to contribute extra effort in finding work, reduce their use of social assistance, adopt compliant behaviours towards the government's welfare reforms and meet raised expectations in finding employment. Research Question 2: How do young unemployed people differently experience their primary and secondary social support networks? Findings: Family support as well as education increases the ability of young unemployed people to interact with their primary and secondary social support networks. Consequently, a poor experience of primary support leads to eventual confusion when dealing with organizations that deliver employment services. The replacement of family support by a friendship group can nevertheless be empowering in these circumstances. Research Question 2a: How does young people's ability to access secondary support networks affect their experience of unemployment? Findings: The lack of family support and education increases the chances of having low resilience, low trust in organizations and other people and an inability to cope. These are all significant barriers to communicating successfully with secondary support networks that provide assistance with employment opportunities. Staying in education is a safety net against youth unemployment. The feeling of connectedness with the community is difficult because of the loss of identity and the absence of identity recognition for young unemployed people through discrimination. The maintenance of the work ethic in the main stems from the desire to accrue material benefits. Research Question 3: What is the role of community and organizational support for young people experiencing the hazards of unemployment? Findings: The findings of the study highlight the vulnerability of young unemployed people accessing organizational support with the hazards stated in the study being the intervening variables. It was found that reforms linking markets and networks make increasing demands on the unemployed and their families. Poor communication within Centrelink, inter organizationally with the Job Network providers and in public communication informing about such reforms has resulted in confusion amongst young unemployed people. The new market driven environment has had detrimental effects on clients because of the lack of integrated programs and has generated a lack of trust in organizational providers. Research Question 4: What is the role of the media and public opinion polls informing community perceptions about youth unemployment? Findings: Media agenda setting provides the cues setting the standards by which the public evaluates government and attributes responsibility for societal problems. Public opinion is formed when media reports on public affairs. People talk to one another about the topic and consequently public opinion is formed. In the 1970s the media framed unemployed youth as 'dole bludgers' and the polls reflected public attitudes that unemployment was due to people not wanting to work. Media framing in the 1990s contrasted with the 1970s view. Such indications included that it now considered that young people were priced out of a job whilst showing cynicism of governments to improve the situation. It did not use the 'dole bludger' tag. Although the salience of youth unemployment in the opinion polls had diminished, it was still a dominant consideration. Sympathy for young unemployed people who are seen as victims of social change by the media has maintained into the new millennium with media criticism aimed at the government's punitive approach to youth unemployment. Research Question 5: How are policies about youth unemployment communicated to the community? Findings: Following Foucault the study found that government is a broader process involving more than the state. From depth interviews with organizational representatives it was found that formulation of policy for youth and unemployment should be bottom up - community, state, federal - before Cabinet consideration. Political and economic ideologies currently precede pragmatism and there is a diminished voice of those representing youth policy. These findings contribute to building on understandings of the phenomenon of youth unemployment at the community level in Australia and inform about the various individuals, groups, organizations including the media that contribute to shaping the discourse in and around youth and youth unemployment.
    Date of Award2000
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorGlen Lewis (Supervisor)

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