photo of Larry Snyder, President of Catholic Charities USA

The American Dream of a Job

As I have written before in this space, Catholic social teaching tells us that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society, and that to access to those things required for human decency—including employment—is a fundamental necessity. The opportunity to have a good job and support one’s family is also at the heart of the American dream. Yet for the past year, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average has climbed by more than 14% as of this writing, unemployment figures remain stagnant, with 14.6 million people out of work and knocking on doors with little success.

This growing unemployment situation has been graphically portrayed in a YouTube video, “The Decline: The Geography of a Recession,” which has been picked up by CNN, The Huffington Post and other media. It shows the slow but steady crawl of unemployment across the nation from January 2007 to June 2010, as county after county turns darker and darker until the whole picture is almost black – an accurate reflection of the national mood.

What is even more disturbing, however, is that this graphic records only what the Bureau of Labor Statistics terms the “U3” unemployed, those without jobs who are available for and actively seeking work. It doesn’t include those who are unemployed, have looked unsuccessfully for a job, are discouraged, can only find part-time work, or who are underemployed, working at jobs for which they are overqualified.

Tom Friedman, in his New York Times column this week, sums up the situation: “…I think I’ve figured out where we are. It’s like this: things are getting better, except where they aren’t. The bailouts are working, except where they’re not. Things will slowly get better, unless they slowly get worse. We should know soon, unless we don’t.”

I urge everyone to watch this video, send it to your friends, and add your comments here. We need to think in new ways about how both our economy and our society are structured to ensure the inherent dignity of each person.