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Because Hamiltonians Study Disparities: Sarah Damaske ’99


Sarah Damaske ’99
Sarah Damaske ’99

Sarah Damaske ’99 has long been interested in understanding and ameliorating class and race inequalities. In 2013, the associate professor of sociology and labor and employment relations at Pennsylvania State University began taking a hard look at the American unemployment system and how gender and class affect those looking for work. Her research culminated in the book The Tolls of Uncertainty: How Privilege and the Guilt Gap Shape Unemployment in America.

Damaske suggests that 60 to 70 percent of Americans will experience at least one instance of joblessness. However, when people lose a job, they enter a system far removed from the one imagined when it was created. “In the past few decades, our unemployment system has become increasingly ungenerous, covering fewer Americans, providing lower benefits, and doing so for shorter periods of time,” she says.

While Damaske’s research focused on the aftermath of the Great Recession, the lessons she presents have timely implications as America recovers from the pandemic.

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“People, then and now, want to be able to put recessions behind us and start talking about good economic news,” she says, while cautioning about moving on without solving current problems. “However, we need to fix the unemployment system so that it works for everyone when they need it.”

Damaske’s book not only tells stories of unemployed people as they cope with job loss and its aftermath; it offers a blueprint for political and societal changes necessary to reach economic recovery. “I hope the book will help to influence policy,” she says. 

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