Cross of Joblessness

If every moment of Christ’s life was a constant humiliation (cf. Phil. 2:5-8), that debasement certainly continues in the suffering body of unemployed or under employed humanity. The cross of joblessness that so many bear today and the increasing impoverishment — in our own country alone, 14 million or 15% are poor — is more than an economic crisis. It is a humanitarian tragedy.
Catholic social teaching, strongly rooted in both Scripture and the nature of the human person and his acts, views work as far more than an economic necessity so that services and goods might be rendered and exchanged. Automation and cybernation might “do” as much but that would be to miss the point that labor is also, if not primarily, for the human person — not the other way around — as Pope John Paul II articulated so well in “Laborem Exercens” (1981).  It is through work that the human person is humanized because work is tied in with the very nature of the human person to be free, creative and productive — and in that order. Not accidentally, in these three traits the human person reflects something of the image and likeness of God.
To address the current labor situation is to navigate in a storm between the Scylla and Charybdis of opposing political and economic ideologies. Treacherous partisan addictions to either excessively centralized planning or “rigid” (crony?) capitalism — to cite the polarities to which Pope John II ascribed much of the problem — tend to pollute and suffocate the climate of economic freedom which is necessary for workers to be able to choose and create and to develop their entrepreneurial spirit. On the one hand, the short-term “solutions” which promise to open up shovel-ready jobs beg the question as to whether shovels will do it for the jobless. The current scourge of unemployment encompasses not only day laborers and the blue collar workforce but also designers, managers and highly skilled professionals.
To be sure, those at the lowest income levels are the most vulnerable and it is a scandal that almost one in four of our children in the U.S. are growing up poor!  The point is, however, that the cross of joblessness transcends class.
It seems almost unforgivably naive to ignore or postpone a head-on confrontation with the primary cause of this economic and moral tragedy: the unsustainable burden of the out-of-control debt and the deficit spending which, if not reversed, will lead us all off the cliff as fast as the Gerasene demons. Adding political dysfunctionality to our economic problems does not make the task any easier.
Caught in the midst of the storm are individuals and families whose sufferings are multiplied daily. Charity is the most basic and immediate first-level response. It is not enough, however, to show compassion by putting cash in the hands and food into the mouths of those who are suffering. Even this is something of a humiliation to the workers whose core humanity cries out for work in keeping with the dignity of the human person. That is why a money or shovels alone approach to address this profoundly moral crisis is likely to fall short. Political and economic structures themselves must be changed.
What is needed is the kind of socio-political reform that will liberate the creative and entrepreneurial spirit of every worker. It is difficult to see how the continued accumulation of indebtedness and centralized regulation will do anything other than tighten the noose of economic slavery around the necks of our citizens. The best cure for poverty is not another program but a job. What is required to create jobs is the restoration of faith in the fundamental nature of the human person as a creator with a unique vocation who, when free, is able to realize it.
The disincentives caused by expanding government run counter to economic growth because they run counter to human nature.  Any reforms in government budgeting and planning must be made with a view toward freeing citizens of every obstacle to pursue their economic potential, enabling them to engage in the kind of dignified work that is essential to their nature.