Objective: This study measured the impact of unemployment and underemployment on alcohol misuse.
Method: A panel of respondents from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth was studied in 1984-85 and 1988-89. In each pair of years, the effect of employment change (e.g., becoming underemployed) on alcohol misuse was assessed controlling for misuse in the first year. Alcohol misuse was operationalized in two ways: elevated symptoms and heavy drinking. Three samples were analyzed: a core sample of 2,441 who were available in both pairs of years (approximately 65% male) and two extended samples that included everyone available in one pair of years but not the other (n = 4,183 in 1984-85 and n = 3,926 in 1988-89).
Results: The 1984-85 analyses revealed a significant association of adverse change in employment with both elevated alcohol symptoms and heavy drinking (the latter moderated by prior heavy drinking). The 1988-89 analyses found no relationship between adverse change in employment and heavy drinking in the core sample and no main effect of adverse change in employment on symptoms, but they did reveal interactions involving prior symptoms (core sample) and marital status (extended sample).
Conclusions: Several explanations for these decreasing effects over time were considered including changes in measurement reliability, statistical power, economic environment and respondents' maturity. These results confirm previous findings that job loss can increase the risk of alcohol misuse, provide new evidence that two types of underemployment (involuntary part-time and poverty-level wage) can also increase this risk and suggest that these effects vary over time.