Not a day goes by when one newspaper article or another does not refer to the fact that 9.2% of the workforce of the United States does not have a job. At times, it is rounded off with a nice easy figure of 15 million. If we are ever to solve this problem, we need to be conscious of the fact that these two figures are not just simply yet another “economic indicator.”
We should try and visualize what goes on in the mind of the person who is responsible for maintaining a family but has been unable to secure a real job for a considerable period of time. Upon waking up, one of the first thoughts to come to such a person’s mind is “I don’t have a job.” They have tried everything that they can to stretch their limited resources. Unemployment benefits at least allays the threat of starvation but it does little or nothing in terms of human pride and dignity. Employment is the mainstay of the economic organization of every family. When it is removed due to no fault of the person so unemployed it is devastating.
In the mid 1930’s, the percentage of unemployment was much higher than it is today but the country got itself together and attacked the issue aggressively. Today, just as in the mid-1930’s, we need our national leaders to pool their brains, experience, intelligence, vision and courage together and cooperate in leading us out of the situation that is keeping millions of Americans agonizing insecurity today and possibly real hunger in the future. That is what we need but that is not what we are getting from the national government.
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A good, steady job is crucially important to the survival and prosperity of the average American family. Jobs are always crucial and that is why I have always felt so sad about the way we treat former convicts when they come out of the Department of Corrections. Regardless of the crime, the fact that they now have a record makes it extraordinarily difficult to get a job. This has always been the case. I think it is a shame and that it should be changed, but now we have a new situation that is even worse.
A person out of work in this weak economy is at a great disadvantage because there are so many seeking jobs. Now comes the hard part. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has declared that regretfully “excluding the unemployed” has become “business as usual.” This is a tragically unfair policy. I understand that employers are concerned about getting the very best possible employees on their payrolls, but they also need to be conscious of the national agenda. We must get these 15 million people back to work and excluding them is not only hurting the individuals that are involved, but impeding the growth of the American economy.
Refusing to hire people on the basis of race, religious, age or disability, among other categories, is illegal but companies that wont even consider hiring someone who isn’t currently employed somewhere else are generally not breaking the law, at least for now! Thanks be to God that in our free democratic society we have the power to change problems as they appear and develop.
Let’s address this problem as a nation and let’s address it now!
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Congratulations to President Obama and the U.S. Congress. As the year ended, Congress enacted and the President signed a bill guaranteeing unemployment payments many months down the road. This was difficult to achieve because of so much opposition in Congress. A pole indicates that about 1/3 of the American population erroneously think that unemployment benefits discourage people from seeking jobs.
Why do so many ill-informed Americans consider unemployment benefits the cause of unemployment? Obviously, the right-wing television pundits fuel this and repeated endlessly in the struggle leading up to congressional action. It is an utterly foolish notion. With five applicants for every job opening, the overreaching problem is a lack of available positions not a lack of personal initiative. David Sirota, writing in the Salon.com newsletter, points out that there are also deeper underlying causes that feed this constant and destructive myth.
Of course, there is what psychologists call the Just-World Fallacy. This is where people believe that the world is inherently fair, that everyone who works hard can be a millionaire and that the unemployed deserve their plight.
In addition, Sirota holds that narcissism is also a factor. Many in our society dehumanize the poor with expressions like “welfare queen” and “white trash.” The myth of the “lazy unemployed” plays to that conceit and the still-employed look down at those who are not. You remain in a job, says the myth, because you are better than the jobless.
Finally, there is fear. With the labor market news downright frightening, the still-employed are understandably pining for a defense mechanism to cope with persistent layoff anxieties. The myth of the “lazy unemployed” provides exactly that – a calming sensation of control. The myth says “the jobless are out of work because they are generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities.” Thus, their distress is of their own choosing. Try telling that to the Detroit autoworkers.
For the last thirty years, the Catholic Church has been struggling to eliminate and lessen this myth. It has made some progress but it is constantly re-invented. The main purposes of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development is to sensitize the American population as to the economic forces that cause so many to be unemployed and thus so many to be poor.
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My heart goes out to President Obama. No one on the planet is under more pressure to deal with extraordinarily difficult and complex problems than is he. I hope that his need to be optimistic and encouraging to the country does not get in the way of clear thinking that will enable us to cut through to some of these problems. First, there is the monumental petroleum leak in the Gulf of Mexico just south of New Orleans. The effect is catastrophic and as of today, the end is not in sight. From the very beginning, both BP and the administration have hesitated to correctly spell out how bad the situation is. In the first weeks, there was almost a lackadaisical attitude; we’ve done this before and we will be able to take care of it. Now nobody is too sure and to when and if the leak can be contained.
Another monumental problem is the question that this so-called recovery is not producing jobs. Considerably more than ten million people are out of work. When you come up with a national average that doesn’t mean that unemployment is spread evenly around the country. Certain areas are hit much harder than others. Examples would be Michigan, Tennessee. Last week when the unemployment figures came out, other than the tens of thousands being provided with temporary jobs in the census, that only 41,000 jobs were created. The president is quoted as saying that, “this is a sign that our economy is getting stronger by the day.” Not so. Most of us are not in a position to hire our fellow Americans, but we are in a position to communicate with our leaders at every level and urge them to make the creation of new jobs the top economic priority of the country. One thing we all can do is to help with various programs that provide assistance to the unemployed but it is far more important that these same people be put to productive work where they again will be taxpayers, which is what they desperately want.
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