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Doctoral Dissertation Announcement
Candidate: Kenlana R. Ferguson
Doctor of Philosophy
Department: Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology
Title: In Their Own Words: The Lived Experiences of Unemployed African American Men
Dr. Lonnie Duncan, Chair
Dr. Mary Zwoyer Anderson
Dr. Douglas Davidson
Date: Friday, March 16, 2012 10:00 a.m. to Noon
2211 Sangren Hall
Due to staggering unemployment rates, African American men’s experience with work in the U.S. has historically received widespread attention in the media and social science literature. Terms such as black male unemployment crisis, puzzle, epidemic and catastrophe have been used to describe the past and current unemployment woes of black males (Holzer & Offner, 2004; Herbert, 2004; Levitan, 2004). Attempts at explaining why African American men are experiencing such difficulty in the world of work have been undertaken across the disciplines of psychology, sociology, and economics. However, much of this work has amounted to nothing more than acknowledgement and understanding that isolating independent factors as causes does not suffice and that a more interdisciplinary framework is needed to truly understand the vocational behavior of African American men .Yet, to date, no such framework exists.
Psychological, sociological, historical, and cultural aspects of life are interdependent in determining feelings and actions. Actions associated with working are no exception. In fact, the field of career development has long acknowledged that vocational and career development occurs within multiple contexts that include the influence of individual, social, political, and economic factors (Vondracek, Lerner & Shulenberg, 1986; Blustein, 2001). However, unemployment has been primarily viewed as a socio-economic issue, not a psychological issue (Winefield, 2000). Thus, the vast majority of research on African American male unemployment has not sufficiently or explicitly given voice to the individual experience of losing a job and of struggling to find means of supporting one's self and family (Blustein, 2006 p.215) and how this impacts his thoughts, feelings, and vocational behavior.
In an attempt to begin filling this gap in the literature, a contextualized humanistic framework using ethnographic interviews was employed to explore the lived experiences of unemployed African American men. A holistic-content analysis was used to uncover individual themes and retell participants’ stories. Common themes across participants emerged and spoke to similarities in upbringing, work socialization, work values, use of spirituality to make sense of and cope with unemployment, and unemployment experiences. These findings are significant in that they shed light on interconnectedness of multiple intrinsic and extrinsic factors impacting unemployed men’s vocational behavior. It is from this contextual framework, that researchers must work towards developing a model of vocational development that attends specifically to the needs of a population struggling the most in the world of work; African American men. Such a framework will inform clinical practices and employment programming.