The Myth of Funemployment

It’s a tragic reality for nearly eight percent of all Americans.  What used to be an expectation for bright, hard working, driven, talented young adults is now a far-fetched hope.  Employment is a right, not a gift.  And so many people who are reading this post are the unlucky many whose future hangs in the balance of an economy that still privileges profits over people and of a broken political system that still caters to corporate interests rather than to the voices of its own citizens.

Employment is a right, not a gift.  There is such a thing as the dignity of work.  Employment affords the human person the recognition that they are a productive, valued member of civil society.  To employ a person is to recognize their deep-seated dignity.  Catholic Social Teaching emerged with this prophetic insight, which was articulated in 1891 with the promulgation of the landmark social encyclical, Rerum Novarum.  And every Labor Day, the Church continues to speak out on behalf of those whose dignity is affronted by joblessness.

Employment is a two-way offering, not a one-way street.  When a person is employed, they are afforded the chance to offer their gifts and talents, vision and hopes, strengths and commitments, for the betterment of civil society and our world.  When a person is unemployed, it is as if they are being told the following: “No.  You are not quite good enough.  You are lacking and deficient.  What you have to offer is just not valuable enough to us.”

But there is also a thing called underemployment, whereby a person must work a job that they are over-qualified for.  The job might put food on the table and pay the bills, but at the end of the day, it is just that: a job.  It is a tragic misuse of a person’s gifts and talents.  It is a settlement for less than your best because the cards have been stacked against you by generations of shortsighted consumption and frivolous waste.  Underemployment still means that the odds are not ever in your favor.  And sugar-coating underemployment undermines the stark reality of unemployment.

Both are degrading, humiliating, demoralizing, and unnerving experiences.  To be unable to provide for your family; to be living in a tumultuous space of uncertainty, where all power and sense of agency is stripped away from you.  That is what it feels like to be unemployed.  And I know that feeling all too well — that feeling of being a little black rain cloud.  I recognize that were it not for the generous support of my own family, I could very easily be living on the streets of Boston right now, at this very moment.  And all this after two bachelor’s degrees and one master’s degree.  The incentive for young adults – who hold the future of our world in their very hands — to get a good education fades away when the prospects for employment are so grim and when student loan interest rates are so steep.  And I’m not the only one.  So many of my friends are in the same boat as well.  Their resilience — our resilience — inspires me.  It ought to inspire all Americans as well.

To the countless Americans who are unemployed, I have this to say to you.  Do not lose hope.  You are our hope.  In you lies the promise of our future.  And as long as your gifts and talents are not being employed for the betterment of our civil society – and in turn, for the betterment of our world – then the promise of our future is lost.

+ CMJ  

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This meditation appeared on The Huffington Post on 17 July 2013.

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