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Mariana Zakharieva, Sofia

Unemployment has emerged as a particularly acute problem of Bulgarian society in the course of the current transformation. Under the conditions of a grave economic crisis, the development of the labour market is marked by imbalance and ineffectiveness. The discrepancy between the demand and supply of labour force is deepening. At the end of the 1990s unemployment has a double digit level. The prognoses point towards a continuing growth. There is a tendency towards the establishment of a stagnating long-tern unemployment. Its parameters are considerably above the levels of long-term unemployment in most other countries in transition and in those with developed market economies. (Bulgaria 1997: 29-30).

Unemployment has a multitude of negative effects both on the macrosocial and individual level. Leading among them is the social isolation of the unemployed. Its negative potential for the development of the society and the individual exerts an impact on many processes which on their turn have unfavourable cumulative effects in various directions.

The maintenance of a part of the labour force outside the sphere of economic activity has unfavourable impacts on the dynamics of major macroeconomic indicators, such as Gross Domestic Product and added value. The society suffers losses because of the lack of reciprocity of the investments in education and professional qualification. The state has to provide considerable financial resources for social support for the unemployed. The impoverishment of this segment of Bulgarian society is progressing, and the income inequalities are deepening. Vast groups of the unemployed are facing a dramatic financial situation. This leads to strengthening of frustration and anomic tendencies, as well as to escalation of various forms of deviance. There is an

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explicit dependence between the level of unemployment and crime. (Mantarova, 1998). Due to these consequences, along with the negative potential for social integration and personal development, the social isolation of the unemployed is emerging as a serious problem of the ongoing transformation in Bulgaria.

What are the main dimensions of the social isolation of the unemployed? What are its determinants and projections on the institutional and individual level? What are the behavioural strategies of the unemployed, formed in the conditions of social isolation? These are key questions for the identification of the parameters of the process. Their answer is indispensable for its effective managing.

1. The Unemployed and the Labour Market: A Growing Distance

In the conditions of a deep and persistent economic recession, exclusively low investment activity and serious financial difficulties for the majority of the companies in the production sector, unemployment is increasing and the demand for labour force is decreasing. The pressure upon the labour market, measured as a ratio between the number of unemployed and the number of vacancies, has been growing over the last years. In 1996 the average number of competitors for one vacancy was 28 unemployed. In 1997 their number was 45, in some parts of the country /the Rousse and the Bourgas regions/ reaching 80 (The Labour Market 1997, 1998: 32-33).

Simultaneously, some unfavourable tendencies can be detected in the structure of the announced vacancies. The demand for qualified workers and specialists is decreasing. Compared to 1996, the vacancies for workers decreased by 10,8% and for specialists by 15,4% in 1997. Moreover, the vacancies for specialists with high education decreased by 19,4%. In the same time, the demand for unskilled and unqualified workers is increasing. The vacancies for them increased by 25,0%. Never-

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theless, this growth notwithstanding, the number of vacancies cannot provide for a considerable reduction of the unemployment rate in this group, which amounts up to 58,1% of the total unemployed (The Labour Market 1997, 1998: 29).

The unfavourable situation on the labour market is determined above all by the economic conjuncture. The recessional tendencies and the slow pace of the economic reform obstruct the activity of the actors in the economic sphere. Entire production lines or their subdivisions are being closed down. This leads to a permanent and increasing dismissal of labour force. In the same time the opening up of new vacancies is rather limited. The existing economic conditions give few opportunities for an increase in employment and predetermine a low effectiveness in the functioning of the labour market.

Along with the limitations imposed by the economic crisis, there are also other factors, contributing to the distancing of the unemployed from the sphere of economic activity. More often than not the vacancies are occupied via internal allocation of workers and staff within the framework of a given enterprise, or among similar enterprises. The chances of unemployed occupying such positions are close to zero. On certain occasions the employers prefer to sign a supplementary labour contract with people who are already employed. The reason for that is that their social benefits are covered at their main workplace. Thus the opportunities for labour integration of the unemployed are further decreasing. They are basically left with the chances for some uninstitutionalised and sporadic activity or low-qualified and seasonal employment.

The duration of unemployment is a resultant criterion for the effectiveness of the labour market and the adaptability of the unemployed to it. It is determined by the objective economic conditions and by the qualitative characteristics of the unemployed. Education plays a crucial role in that. The educational level is the factor which mostly predetermines the position of the unem-

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ployed on the labour market. It is directly correlated with the duration of the unemployment. With the decrease of the educational level, the rate of long-term unemployment increases, reaching its highest peaks among the people with primary or lower education. The dependency is clearly expressed - the lower the educational level, the lower the opportunities to start a new job within an year. That is why the educational profile of the unemployed is a key for the understanding of the current situation, and also for drawing the perspectives.

The unemployed are segmented according to the level and type of their education. Substantial differences in the number, the relative share and the unemployment coefficient (UC) can be detected in the separate educational groups. Two of them are characterised by particularly disadvantageous positions on the labour market. The first one is comprised of people with primary or lower education. The unemployment coefficient there is the highest – 22,7%, which means that every fifth is unemployed. The second group includes people who have graduated from general education secondary schools /UC 15,3%/. The people with vocational school education /UC 12,6%/ are in a relatively more favourable situation. The lowest level of unemployment is registered among the people with high education - UC 6,1% (Employment and Unemployment, 1997, 2: 50). This structuring pattern of unemployment according to the educational principle is being repeatedly manifested from the beginning of the social transformation. It demonstrates considerable similarities with the educational differentiation of the unemployed in other Eastern European countries (Poland 1997: 103, 106).

Certain fluctuations can be observed in the separate educational groups during the last few years. The main tendencies are towards the decreasing of the relative share of the unemployed with low education and a slight increase in the share of unemployed with school or higher education.

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Figure 1

Unemployed by education /in %/

Undisplayed Graphic

(The periods compared have similar general levels of unemployment)

The largest and the most problematic group of unemployed, because of the lack of professional qualification, is the one of the low-educated. Its decrease during the last years cannot promise hopeful prospects, because it is due to the conjuncture of the labour market. The unfolding of the structural reform in the economy would inevitably change the demand for labour. High-tech production calls for well-educated cadres. Because of this fact, the opportunities for labour participation of people without professional qualification will be further limited.

Apart from education, there are other factors which shape the economic status of the labour power and the risk of long-term unemployment. The most significant among them are age and place of residence. Unemployment reaches its highest peaks in the low age-groups of the economically active population. The

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lack of working and professional experience is a serious barrier to finding a job for the young people. As a result, they remain on the labour market for a long period of time and hold the highest share in the age-structure of the long-term unemployed. The chances for labour integration and the duration of the job-seeking period also depend on the type of resident structure where the unemployed live. Generally, unemployment is higher in the towns, compared to the villages (Employment and Unemployment, 1997, 2: 23). However, long-term unemployment is most acutely felt in the villages. Upon this background, the young, the low-educated and the rural dwellers are outlined as particularly risk groups in respect of long-term unemployment. A certain differentiation on the basis of other sociodemographic characteristics (such as gender and ethnicity) is also present. When two or more negative factors coexist, their influence is mustered up and mutually reinforced. The cumulative effect on the unemployed takes the shape of an increasing distancing from the labour market, stagnating unemployment, and labour marginalisation.

The individual behaviour of the unemployed contributes a lot for the breaking of the connection with the labour market. It is dominated by passive strategies for coping with unemployment. Personal initiative and active job-seeking are not specially favoured in the action models of the unemployed. Passivity predominates, motivated by the expectations that work would be offered by other instances - a social institution, a community or an individual within the immediate surroundings of the unemployed.

In their search for work the unemployed count mainly on the registration at the state employment services and on the help of friends and relatives. A regional research1 on long-term unemployed, conducted in January 1999 reads that more than two-thirds of them prefer precisely these two methods of job-seeking.

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Figure 2

Preferred methods of job-seeking /Regional survey, January 1999/

Undisplayed Graphic

A - With the help of the employment services
B - With the help of friends and relatives
C - Direct contact with employers
D - Advertising
E - Replying to advertisements

The search for support in the direction of state institutions is a typical reaction in the conditions of high unemployment, which can be observed in many countries. Its specific manifestation in the Bulgarian conditions is that the expectation of state support is not accompanied with a rise in the individual activity. Some job-seeking practices, which are established and widely spread in the Western European countries (such as publishing and replying to job advertisements) are underestimated or neglected. In the same time, passivity is spreading. Thus the isolation of the unemployed, imposed by the social milieu and above all by the economic realities, is combined with self-isolation, determined by individual attitudes.

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The orientation of the unemployed towards passive behavioural forms is developing under the influence of two particularly significant factors. The first one derives from the unfavourable characteristics of the economic environment and the deteriorated conjuncture of the labour market. Formed under their influence, the real limitations to a positive change in employment are recognised by the unemployed, and have a strong demobilising effect on the job-seekers. The individual attempts to cope with unemployment on one’s own additionally demotivate the unemployed. There is a certain dependency between the duration of unemployment and the individual behavioural orientations. The longer the stay on the labour market, the stronger the conviction that work can only be found with external help, and the tendency towards passivity is strengthening. Related to this is the second reason for the withdrawal of the unemployed from individual initiative and activity - namely their low self-esteem and the lack of confidence in their own capability to cope with the situation. A quarter of them never, or almost never, have self-confidence. This self-assessment naturally directs them towards behavioural models dominated by the principle of passivity. However, the reluctance to take initiative and activity creates and maintains self-isolation of the unemployed from the labour market. As a result, they are becoming more and more distanced from it.

2. Political Alienation of the Unemployed

The political culture of the unemployed is fragmented. They are divided on the basis of party-political, ethnic, religious and other value-orientations. Despite of this differentiation, the basic dimensions of the political attitudes and behaviour of the unemployed are to a great extent similar. They demonstrate uniform attitudes towards the political life and the forms of participation in it. Their angle of view upon the political structures and processes is one of criticism, alienation and passivity.

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The socio-economic insecurity, the mass impoverishment and the loss of the achieved social status, in the conditions of unemployment often lead to extreme individualism and withdrawal in the sphere of private life. The majority of the unemployed are infected with social scepticism. The dissatisfaction with the activity of major state institutions is high. The assessments of their effectiveness are predominantly critical. According to 80,9% of the interviewed unemployed in November 1998, the current government is unsuccessful in its attempts to reduce unemployment. According to 54,3%, it does not support the national production; according to more than two thirds of the unemployed it does not take adequate measures against profiteering and the high crime rates.

In the context of the continuous social crisis and the lack of clear perspectives for a way out of the situation, the trust in basic social institutions is decreasing. It has stabilised at a low level, and mistrust in major state institutions is considerably higher than trust.

Figure 3

Trust of the unemployed in major state institutions
/National survey, November 1998/

Undisplayed Graphic

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The state-political sphere is not the only one losing support in the mass consciousness. The same tendency is valid for the non-state structures as well. Organisations which are elements of the civil society (political parties, syndicates, civic associations) enjoy even less trust than the state institutions. Generally, the negative attitudes towards major political institutions predominate, which is a sign of a crisis of the legitimacy of the system.. Hence, the question whether the principally positive attitude towards the democratic order would be eroded by the acute economic and social problems, or the people will continue to respect the values of the democratic model, still remains without a clear answer.

Despite of the disapproval and the mistrust in the governing structures, the expectations for solving the social problems are directed solely to them. Politics is considered as a sphere of activity and responsibility of the political class only. This attitude motivates resignation, and the commitment of the unemployed to the political processes is low.

Figure 4

Attitudes of the unemployed to the statement
Politics should be left to the politicians only
/Regional survey, January 1999/

Undisplayed Graphic

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The controversy between the great expectations for speedy positive changes and the deep crisis (and in many cases even the regress) in important spheres of life, fosters attitudes of social disintegration and political passivity. They are clearly expressed among the unemployed, and are related to the widespread lack of interest in political life. In a situation where the provision with work and the solving of the dramatic financial problems are of primary importance, the engagement in politics is rather weak. Half of the unemployed are not interested in the political processes at all, only one-third of them have political inclinations towards a certain political party, and only 2.3% are members of a political party. It is evident that the immediate economic needs take lead, promoting economic security rather than political freedom. The disappointment with the economic and political realities, with the competence and the morality of the politicians, with their capability to solve the problems of Bulgarian society, further distances the unemployed from the political life and strengthens their apathy.

The mass orientations towards political passivity are also stimulated by the widespread scepticism regarding the effectiveness of the civil structures in the society. This scepticism, along with a number of other factors (Opp, 1998), lies in the core of the low protest and conflict potential of the unemployed. The predominant part of them are convinced that protests and demonstrations cannot significantly contribute for the improvement of their own situation. This is why the mass attitudes among the unemployed are against active participation in political actions.

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Figure 5

Would you participate in political demonstrations and protests?
/National survey, responses of unemployed, November 1998/

Undisplayed Graphic

A - No
B - Very unlikely
C - Most probably
D - For sure

The differentiated forms of civic activity are still in the process of emergence and establishment in Bulgarian society. Due to the underdevelopment of their structures, of their organisational conditions, channels and mechanisms, they still lack influential participation in governance. If indeed, people are superficially informed about their capacities to resolve social problems. This fact at least partially explains the prejudice of the unemployed against civil activities and their refusal to participate in them. However, there is another very significant explanation, namely the immaturity of the conditions for development of democratic procedures. The identification of capacities to exert influence only with the high levels of power is maintained, thus reducing the effectiveness of individual or group efforts for solving various social problems. This situation is reflected in the general at-

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titudes and motivates personal distancing as a principle of individual behaviour. Thus, the political isolation of the unemployed is strengthened and affirmed.

3. Cultural Models of the Unemployed

The grave economic situation, the insecurity of the present and the lack of clear perspectives for the future on a societal and individual scale contribute to the formation of a mass crisis consciousness among the unemployed. Its distinguishable characteristics are the dominance of materialistic values, the limiting of individual goals and aspirations, along with resignation and passivity. The problem of individual survival turns into an existential one. The value-normative disorientation is increasing and the motivational risks related to the personal capability to effectively cope with unemployment are growing (Genov, 1998).

The overall risk situation in Bulgarian society has its strongest stagnating influence on the individual life strategies of the unemployed. Its complexity and its real dimensions posit them in a critical situation. Unemployment and impoverishment are only part of the parameters of the macrosocial environment, which narrow the attention and the efforts of the people to the sphere of everyday life. The chances for coming out of it are low. The possibilities for choice and realisation of the individual potential are few. Clear rules and stimulating value-normative conditions are absent. Under these conditions only a small part of the unemployed base their personal life strategies on achievement orientations. Those who are focused only on the present and have only survival as a goal are a lot more.

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Figure 6

Temporal horizons of the life strategies of the unemployed
/National survey, November 1998/

Undisplayed Graphic

A - Do not make plans
B - Have plans for the next 5-6 months
C - Have plans for the coming years

The considerable narrowing of the temporal horizon of the life goals of the unemployed is evident for their distancing from the values, which are becoming dominant in the Bulgarian society in the course of the transformation (Zakharieva, 1994). They are related to the modern individualistic culture and stress on longer continuing temporal perspective of the decisions and actions and on orientation towards achievements based on competence, professionalism and individual initiative. The social conditions and the legal system throughout the last years though hardly stimulate the internalisation of orientations relevant to the new type of social organisation. The ineffective functioning of the major social institutions, the distorted interactions among them, the lack of actual control mechanisms, the inadequacies in the legislation and its implementation create opportunities for a broad spectrum of illegitimate activities. Corruption and illegal profiteering are among the examples of behaviour which breaks

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the moral and legal norms and remains unpunished. They undermine the trust in the legitimate channels of prosperity.

The organisational dysfunctions have a strong destructive impact on the value system of the unemployed. They foster the widely shared conviction that the connections and the protection of prominent people, rather than the personal qualities, guarantee success in life.

Figure 7

What holds the greatest importance for individual prosperity?
/National survey, responses of unemployed, November 1998/

Undisplayed Graphic

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The perceptions and the assessments of the channels of social prosperity highly determine the basic milestones in the individual behaviour of the unemployed. A part of them focus their attention and activity in the sphere of informal relations, underestimating the development of personal resources. The subjective reaction of another, more numerous part, however, is a feeling of helplessness, dead-lock, and passive behaviour. In the end of 1998, 86,7% of the unemployed consider their financial situation as very bad. At the same time, few among them have taken actions in order to improve it. The explanations to this can be sought for in the limited opportunities for income increase (finding a job, establishing a private business), and in the mass attitude of resignation and inactivity.

The negative processes in society, namely the lack of a clear strategy for the way out of the economic crisis and the political confrontation lead to mass pessimism. It is manifested in the assessment of the present and the expectations for the future. There is a dominant assertion among the unemployed that the negative tendencies in social life are stable, difficult to overcome and driven by a strong inertia. There is also a widely spread presumption that the accumulation of negative consequences from the reforms undertaken so far is already rather substantial and its overcoming would require serious and continuous efforts. This erodes the trust in speedy positive changes and aggravates the controversies in the mass consciousness.

Under such circumstances it is difficult to form a notion and support for the rational and complex solving of the problems. It requires a high level of information capacity and assessment capability, will and activity on behalf of the people. Many of the unemployed, however, are unable to intellectually and emotionally cope with the rapid and radical changes. The inclination towards risk-taking is low; the fear of the future is widely present.

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Figure 8

What do you feel when thinking of the future?
/National survey, responses of unemployed, November 1998/

Undisplayed Graphic

A - Confidence
B - Hopes and apprehensions
C - Fear
D - Indifference

In the conditions of social pessimism and existential insecurity, the ideas of liberalism hardly fit into the cultural models of the unemployed. Individual freedom as an ultimate value is perceived mainly as an abstraction. The instrumental values of liberal democracy remain alien to the mass consciousness. It is clearly shaped by preferences for a dominant role of state organisations and state property. The considerable income differentiation and the increasing economic stratification are unacceptable for the majority of the unemployed. This is to show that etatism and social egalitarianism dominate their value systems.

The heritage from the past is one of the major factors which explain the dynamics and the controversies in the notions of social equality and individual freedom. Of no less importance is the disappointment with the manifestations of extreme commercialisation of private interest, which can be observed in the last years. The unfulfilled hopes from the beginning of the 1990s, the dramatic realities, and the traditional national attitudes, intertwined in one whole, form strong egalitarian and etatist sentiments.

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There is a mass and stable conviction that the state not only can, but also should take the responsibility for solving the major problems of society and the individuals. It is generally accepted that the state has to guarantee a certain social minimum to every citizen. Its activities are directly related with the achievement of the generally desired social security, the abolishment of the great income differentiation, the normal standard of consumption and life. This attitude to the role of the state gives clear evidence for the vitality of the traditional paternalistic orientations.

Figure 9

Assessments of the responsibilities of the state and the individual
/National survey, responses of unemployed, November 1998/

Undisplayed Graphic

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The unemployed generally expect that the state would provide the conditions for satisfying their basic needs. In the new type of social organisation, though, the state withdraws from the position of total domination and responsibility. The state in the transforming society does not dispose with the necessary resources to meet these expectations. This discrepancy leads to the great risk of new disappointments and resignation. It bears a serious potential for a latent or actual crisis of the legitimacy of the ongoing economic and political changes in Bulgarian society.

The economic, political and cultural dimensions of the social isolation of the unemployed evidently point towards its distinguishing as an acute social problem. The predominant part of its effects on the individual and macrolevel have negative and destructive potentials. They threaten the consolidation processes in society, which are necessary for achieving the goals of the social transformation and the individual integrity of the unemployed. Manifested in their complexity, they might challenge the further development of the reforms. That is why the solving of the problem with the labour and social reintegration of the unemployed would determine to a great extent the pace and the results of the social changes in Bulgaria.


1The article is based on data from the representative for the country sociological survey Risks of the Transformation /November 1998/ and the regional survey on long-term unemployed /Pernik, January 1999/. Both are conducted by a collective lead by Prof. Nilolai Genov.

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EMPLOYMENT AND UNEMPLOYMENT (1997) Sofia: National Statistical Institute, N 2 (in Bulgarian).

MANTAROVA, A. (1998) ‘Unemployment and Crime’. In: Genov N., Ed. Central and Eastern Europe - Continuing Transformation. Paris and Sofia: UNESCO-MOST and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, pp. 284-298.

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OPP, K.-D. (1998) ‘Unemployment, Political Protest and Radicalism: The Example of East Germany’. In: Genov N., Ed. Central and Eastern Europe - Continuing Transformation. Paris and Sofia: UNESCO-MOST and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, pp. 183-232.

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ZAKHARIEVA, M. (1994) ‘Value Systems in a Transition Period’. In: Genov N., Ed. Sociology in a Society in Transition. Sofia: Regional and Global Development.

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | Februar 2000

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