The health-related effects of long-term unemployment are grim, especially for people in their 50s and 60s. One study released last year showed that the chances of a heart attack or stroke among out-of-work people 51-61 is double that of the employed.

To make matters worse, many of these people have lost their health insurance and are unable to access medical care. That’s particularly true when it comes to preventive services that could stop cardiovascular disease before it starts.

With states cutting back on Medicaid, it looks like the problem is only going to get worse.

As a country, the problem of long-term unemployment is front and center the first Friday each new month, when the job creation report/ unemployment rate is published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But for those who are out of work, or marginally attached to the workforce, it’s a daily issue.

So I was impressed with a new project called “Down But Not Out,” developed by “The Lookout,” a Yahoo news blog. It’s really about as basic an idea as you can get: Provide a forum for people to write in about what their life is like as an unemployed American.

The emphasis in the stories is on financial hardship, but you can read between the lines to sift out the emotional crises and the personal toll they have already taken.

The creators of this project asked in June for stories of people unemployed for at least six months. They got 1,000 emails and 5,000 comments from people. Last I checked, 65 posts had been published online.

I recommend reading them in bits and pieces because it’s pretty depressing stuff. But have a look after the next job report to help put some real faces on the cold statistics.

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 The British Academy of Medical Sciences has just released a report after two years of weighing the risks of inserting human DNA into animals. It’s a necessary part of medical research because it allows study of unique human diseases and disorders. But the practice also brings up some mad scientist scenarios.

The consensus was that we need to steer clear of giving more advanced creatures, such as chimpanzees, language ability. That may sound like science fiction, but it’s not that far-fetched.

The Academy’s report says: “Evidence for true language acquisition, even in higher NHP species such as the chimpanzee, is controversial and inconclusive … It is likely that more genes underpinning speech development will be identified in future. However, even if all the genes underlying these processes could be introduced into an NHP, it remains a matter of speculation whether the brain of the modified animal would then be capable of language acquisition.”

Fergus Walsh, medical correspondent for the BBC, says one of the report’s authors told him: “If you come home and your parrot says – ‘who’s a pretty boy?’ – that’s one thing. If you come home and your monkey says it, that’s quite another.”

But could there be a legal issue as well?

A BBC reader commented: “Let’s have it all. Talking animals, humanoid animals, animals with complete human-level (or greater) sapience. Ethics is in the eye of the beholder; I certainly don’t have a problem with the above. Just make sure to do the fundamental medical and bioengineering first before you get sued by the animals.”

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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