Unemployed: White-Collar Job Searching After the Great Recession

Steven H. Lopez, Lora A. Phillips

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


A burgeoning literature on white-collar unemployment and job searching has sought over the past two decades to explain why white-collar workers embrace neoliberal labor market restructuring, and why they often blame themselves for the failure of labor markets to provide stable, secure employment. Recent work, especially Sharone, has shown how neoliberal ideology is rooted in the details of American labor market institutions. More recently, however, U.S. employment relations have undergone a reconfiguration, punctuated by the Great Recession, raising new questions about self-blame and system-blame among white-collar job seekers. In this article, the authors draw on a unique data set of 43 white-collar job seekers interviewed in 2012 and 2013 and argue that, in the post-Great Recession period, what Sharone calls the chemistry game is now experienced as unwinnable, unplayable, and rigged. As a result, the authors find white-collar job seekers questioning neoliberalism in important ways and largely blaming structural factors—especially what they perceive as employers’ betrayal of the social contract—for negative labor market outcomes. The anger, disillusionment, and sense of betrayal among white-collar workers that the authors find in the post-Great Recession labor market, the authors suggest, has implications for Burawoy’s influential theory of employment games as well as relevance for the widespread decline in trust in American institutions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)470-510
Number of pages41
JournalWork and Occupations
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Great Recession
  • ideology
  • job searching
  • neoliberalism
  • unemployment
  • white-collar work

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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