TTU graduate wins award for study on long-term unemployment in the Upper Cumberland

 Sara Whisnant, a fall 2011 graduate of Tennessee Tech University, has received recognition for her undergraduate study of employers’ biases against long-term unemployed people.

Whisnant won the Psi Chi International Regional Research Award during the 58th Annual Conference of the Southeastern Psychological Association in New Orleans in February.

Her research, co-authored with TTU professor Matthew J. Zagumny, examined attitudes of small business owners toward long-term unemployed people. The study surveyed both small business owners and unemployed people who were seeking employment assistance through the state’s Career Centers in Lebanon, Cookeville and Sparta. Additional participants were recruited at a job fair in Crossville and through the Goodwill Job Training program in Cookeville.

Through hundreds of interviews, Whisnant discovered that both small business owners and unemployed people view unemployment of more than six months as the greatest barrier to a potential hiring decision.

Interestingly, unemployed people view their unemployed status as more of a deterrent to finding a job than the employers surveyed.

“Unemployed people could benefit from career counseling, with special attention on the psychosocial effects of unemployment,” said Whisnant. “It is critical to improve job applicants' self confidence by reducing their self consciousness about being unemployed.”

Additionally, employers reported a significantly more negative attitude toward the unemployment insurance benefit program than unemployed people did.

Whisnant’s and Zagumny’s findings suggest that greater information about the role of unemployment benefits may improve employers' attitudes toward the program and toward long-term unemployed people.

A psychology major from Crossville, Whisnant received her bachelor’s degree in December. She graduated in cursu honorum, an honor that comes with taking at least 22 hours of honors courses and graduating with a grade point average or 3.5 or higher.