April 14, 2021
Unemployment benefits, like other social welfare programs, have become politicized in the wake of recent rightward shifts in the political landscape of the Western political realm, with the unemployed often described in derogatory terms as an aspect of proposed budget-cutting and tax-reduction regimes. YTK, Finland’s general unemployment office, asked SecurAI Oy, an artificial intelligence firm, to look into the attitudes Finnish citizens hold toward the unemployed. The protocols of that research, and the results, are presented in brief below.
Data extraction (‘scraping’) and data set preparation
YTK and SecurAI agreed on the following list of words. SecurAI then scanned twitter and scraped all the tweets containing those words from 2006 to mid-January 2021.
To ensure that the matter at the core of those tweets was indeed unemployment, only tweets containing more than one of those words were kept. The data was then cleaned of all potential doublons. From the 132 905 tweets - doublons included - scraped originally, remained 4 436 unique tweets discussing unemployment related matters.
Overall, unemployment is a touchy subject. Among the nine most prominent concepts detected in the data, 5 were related to emotions & feelings.
The analysis revealed that there were 2 main approaches to unemployment in Finland in the conversations on Twitter:
- an individual angle, how does it impact the people, a person’s specific story & situation. Most of the tweets in that category are testimonies. Ex: “When I became unemployed, I received an unemployment allowance of 450 € / month. Getting a job may have been hampered by my young age, employers 'willingness to hire more people with work experience, and the general economy and weak employment situation.”
- a socio-political angle, how does it impact society. Most of the tweets tackle the matter of unemployment as an abstract societal matter, making for instance connections between unemployment and society, morality, religion, ideology. We see a lot more critical and judgemental tweets in this category.
Ex: “The unemployed of the 21st century can, if they wish, be ideologically unemployed, collect subsidies and have a hobby. Some choose to live like this.”
The first category - individual view - has significantly lower levels of anger, anticipation, disgust and sadness; and higher levels of trust, than does the more impersonal second category - socio-political view. Overall, the first category has lower levels of negative feelings & emotions than the second one. It seems that on an individual level, the unemployed trust in the system to support them even though they are frustrated by their situation. Whereas on a societal level, people do not seem to trust in the unemployed to do their best to find a new job and stigmatise them for receiving support sometimes deemed underserved.
A significant part of the data contains derogatory words when talking about the unemployed receiving support, showing a clear stigma against the unemployed. Most common ones are “lazy” and “poor”, followed by the even more degrading terms “loser”, “problem” & “worthless”. The frequent occurrence of words like "fuss", "punish", "squat" / "squatting", "worst" seem to attribute hostile tendencies to the unemployed, which is concerning because it could fuel reactionary tendencies against the unemployed. Ex: “Here are the vacancies in Finland where the unemployed are too lazy”.
Finnish citizens tend to support others who receive unemployment support when they think of those recipients as people like themselves, and to not support them when they think of them as somehow ‘other’ -- people who are ‘not like me.’ These findings are consistent with a large body of research in both the EU and the US in which individualistic political attitudes led to lower support for social policies supporting the unemployed, and in which those who are unemployed are seen as somehow seeking to ‘game’ the system -- despite ample evidence that the majority of the unemployed are short-term victims of circumstance.