Job Search Depression during COVID-19

Executive Summary 

It is no question that, in the past couple of months, the rates of job unemployment have skyrocketed. According to statistics listed by the Department of Labor, nearly 30 million positions were taken off from payrolls due to the pandemic. Not only have existing employees been laid off, but upcoming professionals have also had to face disappointment as the hiring rates have lowered. Unfortunately, job security is not a guarantee for anyone at this time. This leads to a known phenomenon called “job search depression.” The Department of Labor has done great work to aid individuals financially that are facing unemployment. However, more work is necessary to address the mental trauma caused by the current conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic and unemployment rates. This white paper will directly address this gap and recommend how the Department of Labor could aid individuals who are experiencing trauma and depression as they are being laid off or searching for new employment. 

Searching for a job is a thankless task that requires hours of your time. Filling out applications, researching companies, preparing for interviews, networking, etc can all amount to a single rejection letter. The entire process can be so overwhelming that it can leave you feeling unwanted, dejected and sad (Florentine, 2017). It is vital we acknowledge the issue in our hands, and be proactive in finding resources to help those in need. It is not only important to help those that are victim to this phenomenon, but also to companies who are recruiting currently. When a potential candidate is not in the correct state of mind, it will impact their quality of their application and interviews. If one does get hired, they may struggle with achieving the productivity rates as desired as they may be still recovering from the job search depression.

laptop on top of table beside vase of flowers
via Unsplash


One of the worst side effects of coronavirus is that the employment rates have plummeted. The impact the global pandemic has had on the economy is devastating. According to The Commonwealth Fund, over 7.7 million people had lost their jobs by June 2020 ( Fronstin & Woodbury, 2020). If one looks at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics graph below (Figure 1), things were going incredibly well right before the pandemic, with the lowest unemployment rate since at least 2016. However, when the global pandemic hit , the unemployment rate spiked up to the highest rate seen in recent times 32%. The US government, specifically the Department of Labor, has taken measures to help individuals impacted by the virus financially (Coronavirus Resources 2020). However, one vital quotient that was forgotten was mental health support. There has been no mention about helping those that are going through a difficult time mentally when trying to find a new job in this struggling economy. Job search depression is when one faces symptoms of clinical depression while searching for jobs, with little to no luck. This has been a phenomenon in the past, but with the global pandemic occurring, the chances of unemployed individuals going through job search depression is significantly higher. Attention and resources are needed to help aid those that are currently suffering. 

Figure 1:

What Resources the Department of Labor already Have

It cannot be denied that the Department of Labor has worked hard to help the unemployed in the past few months. When one goes to “Coronavirus Resources” under the Department of Labor website, it is clear that actions have been taken to provide aid for various cases. On March 18, 2020, the U.S. The Department of Labor introduced some new measures they were taking to help (Coronavirus Resources 2020). Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) included a new action regarding how American workers and employers will benefit from the protections and relief offered by the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act. They also have resources for workplace safety, unemployment insurance flexibilities, support for dislocated workers (compensation-related), foreign labor certification, etc. The only thing that is missing is any mention of mental health. That may be the aspect that citizens need help the most in.

What causes Job Search Depression

There have been many studies done to figure out what causes job search depression. According to the learned helplessness theory, it can be caused “when someone is exposed to a negative, uncontrollable event, they may conclude that their efforts are unrelated to their outcomes” (Vianen, 2018). This fits perfectly into what a person going through job search depression may feel. Imagine when one has just been laid off, and is trying to desperately find another job so that they can pay their bills. If they are constantly getting rejection letters or not hearing back from employers, it is bound to impact their mental health and make them feel helpless. Furthermore, Feather even argues that many people who start feeling helpless reduce their job search because they believe that it is a lost cause and their efforts are simply going to go to waste (Feather, 1990). This lowers their chances of getting a job and coming out of job search depression.

person using MacBook Pro
via Unspash

Another factor that plays a part is job insecurity. Job insecurity is the “degree to which an individual believes they can maintain their current job”(Vianen, 2018). When one gets laid off, it makes sense for one’s job insecurity to increase. They lose confidence in themselves, and don’t believe their job security will rise again. This mindset also leads to the issue of accepting an offer that is not good enough (Vinokur, 1992). When one is feeling low about their capabilities in their industry and are already in desperate times, it makes sense that they will jump at any opportunity that is given to them. Many times, these opportunities are less-than-satisfactory, and could not provide the happiness the individual was looking for.

Financial hardship is definitely a stressor when it comes to job search depression, especially during a global pandemic. As CNBC puts it, the U.S. unemployment system was already broken. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit (Chen, 2015).”Many people who got laid off were given financial aid in the beginning stages. According to the Department of Labor website, on March 27, 2020, President Trump signed the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act ” that enables people to attain unemployment insurance and get financial benefits.” While this does sound great, and is greatly appreciated by many, there is not such a thing as free money. Angie Bradberry is a testament to this.

Bradberry is a 41 year old that is the sole guardian of a 10-year-old. She lost her job as a waiter due to the pandemic in March (Chen, 2015). Unlike some of her friends, she was lucky enough to have received her benefits. However, once the federal benefits ended, she only had $132 to survive per week. She was two months behind rent, and somehow managed to salvage enough money for gas and food for her son. In July, she found out that she owed her state, North Carolina, over $3,700. “I was completely shocked. I had never experienced anything like this.”, she said when she found out that state will take $300, the only money she had at the time, as well as a fraction of her weekly state payment. She’s now scraping by $66 a week. She states, “It’s bad enough we are going through what we have to go through,” says Bradberry. “We lose our jobs, our kids can’t go to school, we can barely leave our homes. We went through all of this and … I’m at my wits’ end.”

spilled coins from the jar
Via Unsplash

Last but not least, is the amount of time one stays unemployed. According to NCBI, the illness is directly proportional to the duration of unemployment increases (Vianen, 2018). “Long-term unemployment has at least twofold risk of mental illness, compared to those that are employed. Their mortality is 1.6 fold higher.” The longer time one puts in effort to apply to jobs and prepare for interviews, and receives no positive responses in return, the more defeated they will feel. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics graph below (Figure 2) shows how many people were unemployed for 27 weeks (around 6.75 months) or longer. There is a huge increase in 2020, right when the pandemic hits. This spike looks very familiar to the spike in the graph above. It could be safe to assume that the majority of those that were unemployed during the pandemic were unemployed for over 27 weeks. 27 weeks is a long time to be stressed about finding a job, and this evidence shows that many of the people that have been laid off during COVID-19, may be going through job search depression. This is an urgency for resources, as America has not dealt with this extent of unemployment in decades.

Figure 2:

Impact of Job Search Depression on an individual

The impact of job search depression on an individual can range from low to high impact (Chen, 2015). When one is initially laid off, they actually experience a better sense of well-being. However, if they are still unemployed after 12ish weeks later, problems start to arise.They face their own version of burnout as they start off exerting all of their energy into applying to jobs. Business Insider describes this time as highly stressful and emotionally exhausting (Vianen, 2018). Eventually, after a lack of success, the energy required for a successful job search drops, which leads to poorer reemployment outcomes. 

Additionally, a professional work atmosphere provides two vital aspects: a social environment and a structured routine. Both play a role in creating a healthy and productive lifestyle (Yaacov, 1995). When working with the same group of people everyday for 8 hours (maybe even more), many workers form strong bonds at work. When that is suddenly stripped away, the loneliness seeps in. Additionally, being at work provides a structure to one’s life. Waking up early, commuting to work, going out to lunch with your co-workers, commuting back home, etc. It provides a routine, where one tends to feel productive. Elaine Mead works with long-term unemployed young adults, and describes the process of job hunting as “demoralizing.”(Vianen, 2018). She explains that when they sat at her desk, she could see the defeat in them: “slumped body language, tired eyes, and a lack of motivation”. 

It is not only the financial stressors or the fact that one is getting rejections that play a part in job search depression. Those that go through this also feel a sense of lost identity. In our day and age, much of who we are is dependent on what we do. Take a look at social media, for example. Many people post about their latest work achievements on social media, specifically LinkedIn (Guiseppi, 2020). The world has become more virtual, in which one no longer needs to meet people in person to know what is happening in their professional careers. People are bound to compare themselves with their peers. For people that just got laid off, seeing posts about their friends getting promotions, new job offers, etc can spark jealousy. This perpetuates the feeling of losing their identity. 

Who is more prone to Job Search Depression

While job insecurity is on a rise for everyone currently, there are a few minorities that got hit the hardest. The first being those that have little to no savings. Many people in America live from paycheck to paycheck. It has been a lifestyle for many for years. The Nielsen study found that one in four families that make over $150,000 live from paycheck to paycheck, while those making between $50,000-$100,0000 have one in three families that rely on their next paycheck (Vianen, 2018). This has been common for quite some time. Therefore, when the pandemic hit and people lost their jobs, many of those people had no savings to fall back on. In this scenario, they also do not have the money to go to a career counselor that can help them become more desirable in the job market. People in this circumstance would have a higher level of urgency of finding a job. They are under immense pressure to find a job quick, leading them to be prone to job search depression.

people sitting in front of computer monitors
Via Unsplash

Another minority that will be more prone to job search depression is women, specifically those who are 20 years and over. Women are known to have a harder time to find a job in the past. While this situation has gotten better over the years, it is definitely not an equal playing ground. In the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics graph below (Figure 3), it shows that men’s peak (August – September, 2020) in unemployment rate was 15%, while women were 13.5%. This shows that women were laid off more than men during this pandemic. They are more prone to job search depression as getting a job in the first place is hard for women in general. To now lose that job, and try to find another one in the midst of a global pandemic is not easy. Even before the peak, the women always had a higher unemployment rate, so clearly this is not an issue that is exclusive to the global pandemic, it is simply heightened. 

Lastly, another group of minorities that have been hit the hardest are those of people of color, specifically Black or African Americans, Asians, and Hispanic/Latino. For clarity, the map below shows that Whites (14.2%) have the lowest unemployment rate followed by Asians (15%), Black or African American (16.8%), and lastly Hispanic/Latino (18.9%) at their peaks during the global pandemic. If comparing the Whites to the Hispanic and Latino community, there is a 4.7% difference in unemployment rate, which is massive. This is significant information because people of color in the United States of America already face several struggles such as racism, discrimination, etc. (Guiseppi, 2020). To have added another layer of unemployment furthers their chances of going through job search depression. 

As mentioned with women, they know getting a job in general is more difficult for them comparatively to the Caucasian demographic, so to find another job with the economy being as bad as it is, is terrifying (Guiseppi, 2020). They perhaps also do not know of the resources that the government provides for them. While there were federal benefits that were given to those that were laid off, the process of getting that money was not easy. Ms. Doshi, an Indian immigrant owning a small salon, said the process of getting federal benefits was extremely difficult as it required a lot of documents, the process itself was confusing, and the jargon was dense. As she is not a native English speaker, this part was the hardest (Guiseppi, 2020). 

Figure 3

For clarity:

  • Navy Blue: men, 20 years and older
  • Sky Blue: White
  • Black: Women, 20 years and older
  • Periwinkle: Asian
  • Purple: Black, or African American
  • Orange: Hispanic or Latino

Lastly, another way to analyze who is most prone to having job search depression is by looking at which industries were hit the hardest during COVID-19. Business Insider (Pietsch, 2020) reported some of the top industries that let go of the most people were: 

  • Hotels 
  • Sports and Performing arts
  • Restaurants and bars 
  • Laundry and personal services
  • Clothing stores
  • Amusement parks and casinos
  • Scenic transportation (airlines, boat tours, etc.)

One thing in common with all of these industries is that it is a service that is reliant on their customers (Pietsch, 2020). An amusement park will go into bankruptcy should no one buy tickets, and restaurants will run to the ground (as many already are) if no one comes in to eat. With COVID-19 being so dangerous, it will take a long time, potentially years, till people start using these services as often as pre-COVID times. This makes job insecurity skyrocket for those that work in these industries because they have no idea when they can get employed again (Pietsch, 2020). For example, while restaurants may have started opening up again, but not many people are comfortable eating there, which means there won’t be as many tips. For those that have studied these industries, and is their profession, job search depression is bound to hit as their skills are valuable for industries that are doing horribly currently. 

Impact of Job Search Depression on Economy

During the 1950s and 1960s, when our economy was thriving, we still had an unemployment rate of 4-5% (Vianen, 2018). Being unemployed is not a new crisis we are dealing with just because of COVID-19. The phenomenon of job search depression existed in the past, and it will surely continue after COVID-19 ends, which is why we need to create permanent solutions to offer. An aftermath of job search depression is that it leaves a lasting damage in one’s belief in their capabilities (Vianen, 2018). This follows them even after they get work again. There is a lack of confidence that may prevent them from producing their best work. Low self-confidence also may lead to one “jump to less-than satisfactory opportunities in the fear that nothing better will come for them. This not only leaves the individuals potential underutilized, but the individual may resent their work because they know they are worth more. 

Additionally, job search depression does not simply go away after getting a job. It creates a long-term impact in which they are still feeling low, and are not in the mental state to produce good work (Chen, 2015). This impacts extremely negatively on the companies that unknowingly hire them based on their past experience, and they don’t deliver their performance as effectively or efficiently as expected. This can cause companies to lose money. With the amount of people that were laid off during COVID-19, there could be a huge wave of people that may not be in the best state of mind when coming in to work. What they could do in an hour, may now take them two hours. While they were great at communicating before, maybe their skills have taken a hit from not being able to socialize normally. There are so many ways that performance could be impacted if no support is provided to these individuals. 

How Resources from the Department of Labor can Help

So, what can the Department of Labor do to help these individuals? A JSTOR study found that introducing an “intervention” to those unemployed helped reduce the likelihood of a severe episode of depression (Waters, 2007). These interventions could include coping resources or social support. Some examples can include infographics on the website about precautions to take to ensure one doesn’t fall into the web of job search depression, free therapy services funded by the government, or even a hotline where people can call when they are feeling hopeless.

woman wearing gray jacket
Via Unsplash

It is not necessary for the government to go ahead and create these services themselves. There are already resources out there. The problem arises when it comes to money. Those that are struggling to find a job can most certainly not afford therapy or a career counselor. Instead, if the government was able to provide free or heavily discounted services, it can be of great help. A study was done in the University of Michigan to test a preventative intervention of unemployed people (Waters, 2007). The goal was to help prevent deterioration in mental health. After following up with them 4 months later, they found that a higher quality reemployment (both due to higher compensation and job satisfaction), higher motivation, etc. They had a better outcome both career wise as well as in respect for their mental health compared to the control group. 

A way the Department of Labor can help is by making already existing resources more accessible. First things first, defining what job search depression is and normalizing speaking about it could do wonders. Many people don’t know what the term means, and that there is a name for what they are feeling. Infographics could be a great way to educate the public, especially if it is placed on the page titled “Coronavirus Resources” as many individuals visit that page on a daily basis. Next, funding career counselors so that individuals can use those services at a free/discounted rate can be a great preventative measure. They will make sure that their resume and interviewing skills are fantastic, while also giving them moral support. Promoting a hotline would also be a great way to provide help to citizens as not only will more people know that there is someone they can always talk to, it again destigmatized job search depression. Lastly, being able to provide free/heavily discounted therapy sessions would be the best resource to help these individuals. By speaking about how they are feeling, they can get advice on how to better themselves and not let the job search impact their mental health. 


Searching for a job is a thankless task that requires hours of your time. Filling out applications, researching companies, preparing for interviews, networking, etc. can all amount to a single rejection letter. The entire process can be so overwhelming that it can leave you feeling unwanted, dejected and sad (Florentine, 2017). It is vital we acknowledge the issue in our hands, and be proactive in finding resources to help those in need. It is not only important to help those that are victim to this phenomenon, but also to companies who are recruiting currently. No one deserves to feel defeated due to a global pandemic. 


Reference List

Coronavirus Resources. (2020). Retrieved November 03, 2020, from

Fronstin, P., & Woodbury, S. (2020, October 07). How Many Americans Have Lost Jobs with 

Employer Health Coverage During the Pandemic? Retrieved November 27, 2020, from

Fronstin, P., & Woodbury, S. (2020, October 07). How Many Americans Have Lost Jobs with 

Employer Health Coverage During the Pandemic? Retrieved November 27, 2020, from

Kroemer’s, L. M., van Hooft, E. A. J., & van Vianen, A. E. M. (2018). Dealing with negative job search experiences: The beneficial role of self-compassion for job seekers’ affective responses. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 106, 165–179.

Lim, V., Chen, D., Aw, S., & Tan, M. (2015, November 11). Unemployed and exhausted? Job-search fatigue and reemployment quality. Retrieved November 03, 2020, from

Pietsch, B. (2020, May 12). 20.5 million people lost their jobs in April. Here are the 10 job types that were hardest hit. Retrieved November 27, 2020, from

Price, R., Van Ryn, M., & Vinokur, A. (1992). Impact of a Preventive Job Search Intervention on the Likelihood of Depression Among the Unemployed. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 33(2), 158-167. Retrieved November 3, 2020, from 

Vinous, Amiram & Price, Richard & Schul, Yaacov. (1995). Impact of the JOBS intervention on unemployed workers varying in risk for depression. American Journal of Community Psychology. 23. 39-74. 10.1007/BF02506922. 

Waters, L. (2007). Experiential differences between voluntary and involuntary job redundancy on depression, job-search activity, affective employee outcomes and re-employment quality. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 80(2), 279–299.


1 Comment

  1. Imani
    December 15, 2020 / 11:17 am

    Very eye-opening read!!
    I’m Praying for families at this time. It’s already difficult enough to take care of myself during this time. I can’t imagine what it would look like if I was unemployed and had loved ones relying on me.

    Btw, I love the info graphic at the end.

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