Unemployment and underemployment have adverse mental and physical health consequences, such as increased stress and depression. Health damaging behaviors like unhealthy eating, smoking, and alcohol use may be used to cope, contributing to chronic disease risk. In this adverse economic climate, it is vital to understand the health implications of unemployment and underemployment as well as underlying mechanisms. A randomized household survey of adults in six low resource communities was conducted in New Haven, Connecticut in 2009, yielding a sample of 1205 (73% participation) racially diverse adults (61% Black, 20% Latino, 12% White) ages 18-65 (61% women). We used ANOVA to test group differences and structural equation modeling to test mediation. 14.5% were unemployed and looking for work, 18.4% worked part-time, 38.2% worked full-time. Those employed full-time reported the least damaging psychological factors and health behaviors: lowest levels of stress and depression, most healthy and least unhealthy eating, most physical activity, and lowest levels of smoking and drinking. Those employed part-time fell in the middle, and those unemployed fell on the unhealthy end of all psychological and behavioral factors. Stress significantly mediated the associations of full-time employment with frequency of unhealthy eating and physical activity, and amount of cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption. Depression significantly mediated the association of full-time employment with frequency of healthy eating. Compared to <10% nationwide, rates of unemployment in this sample were high. Both those unemployed and employed part-time reported adverse health behaviors as compared to those employed full-time, partially mediated by heightened stress and depression. It is vital for the health and well-being of the nation to increase not simply employment, but specifically full-time employment. Provision of mental health services to those unemployed and underemployed should be a priority to promote healthier lifestyles and prevent costly future chronic disease.
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