The report this month is that the economy netted just 18,000 jobs in June, 2011 (grew by 57,000 jobs in the private sector, but lost 39,000 public sector jobs). This was the second month of almost flat growth and it was well below expectations. The official national unemployment rate was 9.2%, a slight rise from May 14. 1 million people are unemployed, up 545,000 since March. Approximately 44.4% of the unemployed have been out of work for at least half of a year.  (As we all should know, the “official” rate of unemployment does not include those who have simply given up on the job market and effectively dropped out. Lots of young people are in the unofficial numbers as are those who have been unemployed for a very long time.)
We have been hearing about the “unemployment rate” all our lives—just one more number in a world filled with statistics, averages, trends, and percentages that make our eyes gloss over at the evening news, the morning newspaper, or the latest blog. But unemployment is about millions of women and men, many of whom are deeply affected by being without work. Unemployment assaults them in a number of ways: they cannot meet their own needs for the basics of life nor those of their families; their dignity is undercut by the lack of income even with the provision of some type of unemployment compensation, if they are eligible; and they can no longer contribute to the well-being of wider society and the common good.
In the writings of Pope John Paul II, especially in his 1981 encyclical Laborem Exercens (On Human Work), unemployment takes on a deeper spiritual meaning. There he writes that employment is critical to the human person because by his or her work the person is continuing the very creative activity of God. We thus become “co-creators” with God of all the ways in which human beings have developed civilization from the natural world. We have continued that co-creative activity in science, industry, art, technology, music, business, civil society, government, education, literature, family, and culture. Such participation for John Paul was part of becoming more deeply spiritual, more deeply like God the creator. Thus, the unemployed person is not only wounded financially and psychologically, but also spiritually, by being without work.
For Christians, then, we look upon unemployment as an evil and full employment as a responsibility of all of us for the common good and of our elected officials and business and labor leaders in particular. As Pope Benedict reminded us two years ago, we must continue to “prioritize the goal of access to steady employment for everyone.” So, while debates continue about debt and deficit, we must continue to remind one another and our politicians and public administrators that it is the human person—especially the unemployed—that should be our top concern.
In the meantime, we also can remind policy-makers that workers unemployed as of this month, who are subsisting on unemployment benefits in a few-jobs economy, will not be eligible for the extended benefits as of the end of this year unless Congress acts to include them in the extended benefits program first created in June 2008 for the long-term unemployed.
 “Economy Adds Just 18,000 Jobs in June,” National Employment Law Project, July 8, 2011, http://www.nelp.org/page/-/Press%20Releases/2011/PR_Jobs_Statement_7-8-2011.pdf?nocdn=1 (accessed July 13, 2011).
 Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 2009, No. 32.
 “Economic Adds Just 18,000 Jobs in June,” op. cit.
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