It hardly seems like a question that needs asking: Which makes people more miserable —  “rapid inflation or crippling unemployment”?

Based on personal experience, my vote goes for unemployment as causing more misery, angst, uncertainty, worry, unhappiness, distress and gray hair.

Job seekers in aos Colinas, Texas. (LM Otero/AP) Job seekers in aos Colinas, Tex. (LM Otero/AP)

It’s hard to believe, but a 1970s economist weighted unemployment and inflation equally in the misery department. But that notion may be changing. A group of economists, including Dartmouth College professor David G. Blanchflower, is presenting a new paper today at the Federal Reserve of Boston’s annual research conference. They’ve developed a “misery ratio” that says unemployment is four times as bad as inflation.

My husband’s first question: How do you measure misery? Well, these are economists who’ve devoted their lives to studying such things and they’ve figured out how to quantify it.

Me, I’m a mom and writer who’s struggled with the impact of the economy on my family for the last five years. My first post for She the People covered the subject of “Jobs before birth control” and related what had happened to us. Some friends said it was more of a rant than an article, but you can add anger and disappointment to the emotions that occur during unemployment:

Anger that U.S. companies look at the bottom line and offshore jobs overseas rather than worrying about their employees.

Disappointment that our government’s attempts to create jobs have failed. Where’s the Works Progress Administration when we need it?

I’ve never tried to quantify the misery caused by unemployment; I just know what it’s like to live through it. The Reader’s Digest condensed version of our unemployment saga: Five years ago this month, my husband’s IT job was outsourced to India and he was laid off from the company where he’d worked for nearly 20 years. (During one performance evaluation, a supervisor said he “walked on water” in praise of his job skills.)

Since then, he’s been laid off two more times (outsourced job, government budget cut) and “furloughed” from a struggling company, for a total of nine months without a job.

Nine months of unemployment. That’s actually not bad, compared to some of our friends and acquaintances. I know people in their 40s who’ve moved their entire families back to their parents’ homes. I know others who’ve just given up on the job search entirely. They make do with freelance assignments, minimum-wage jobs and spouse’s incomes.

How do you describe what it’s like to live without a job? Of course there’s the practical question of how to pay the bills. You cut every expense you can. You go through your savings first. You start buying groceries on credit cards. Your family and friends help, sometimes in subtle ways, like the neighbor who buys chicken on sale and drops off a couple, saying, “Pay me later” and later claims you’ve already paid her.

But there’s a fear and uneasiness that eats at you and wakes you up in the middle of the night and ties your guts up in knots. This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. We played by the rules and this is what we get?

We’ve lost our sense of security. We’re both working now, but how long will it last?

Anne Krueger, an editor in Atlanta, summed it up well. “Inflation feels impersonal,” she wrote on my Facebook status. “Unemployment feels more personal, doesn’t it? Even when it’s not happening to you, it’s happening to people and that spreads the misery from person to person. And even the employed worry that it could happen to them.”

Without reading the paper, she summed up what Blanchflower and his fellow authors found: “Unemployment lowers happiness of the unemployed but also the happiness of everyone else.”

Maybe that’s why we all need to worry about this issue.

Diana Reese is a freelance journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.