Economics 101 & Public Square

Here’s How the Faith and Work Message Can Help Close the Unemployment Gap

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Last Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released unemployment statistics for July. Those who were looking for marked growth will be disappointed.

In a nutshell:

  • The unemployment rate remains above 6%.
  • 9 million Americans continue to look for work but are unable to find it.
  • The average amount of time spent unemployed has increased from 19.8 weeks in January 2009 to 32.9 weeks.
  •  Total underemployed (unemployed, underemployed, or stopped looking): 12.2%, or 17.9 million. 

These numbers have not changed significantly over the last few months, but when we examine them in light of the progress made since the Great Recession of 2008, we are forced to acknowledge that there is room for growth.

The Hamilton Project has tracked the economy’s progress since the recession, measuring how many jobs the economy needs to create to return to pre-recession employment levels while absorbing those entering the workforce. To date, there remains a job gap of 5.7 million jobs.

What the Numbers Mean for Faith and Work

Rather than be discouraged, it’s important to understand what these numbers mean.

In any economy, there will always be an element of unemployment as individuals change jobs or transition to new careers. Some will leave the workforce for health reasons, others to invest their time in other ways.

We should become worried, however, when unemployment statistics exceed these natural, cyclical unemployment figures. If policies restrict individuals from pursuing the best use of their gifts and talents or if regulations stifle the potential of trade, the economy will not experience flourishing.

Jobs that would normally be valued cannot be supported by an economy that is unnecessarily protecting jobs in another industry. When market signals are clouded by preferential policies, jobs that would otherwise be valued are lost, and unemployment rises. What’s the solution for high unemployment numbers such as these?

In an economy that uses as crutches the very policies that prevent expansion and growth, we cannot expect to see the optimal percentage of the population engaged in the workforce.

However, in an opportunity society, each member is encouraged to and rewarded for pursuing their comparative advantage. An opportunity society will have the most options for work because we need each member of society to contribute that which he or she does best.

Wealth is created when we are good stewards of the resources with which we have been entrusted, and this is only possible when we have the freedom and prerogative to pursue our gifts and talents.

Closing the Gap

The job gap mentioned above includes not only the 5.7 million jobs, but also the millions of dollars lost in unachieved wealth. This begs the question: how can we close the job gap?

This can be done by freeing the creative potential currently restricted by oppressive policies and embracing an opportunity society.

This might seem like a daunting task, better suited to officials trained in economics, but each of us can effect change simply by altering how we think of our own work.

  • We need to evaluate our own gifts and seek jobs in which we can add value. We have each been given gifts created uniquely for us. Discovering and cultivating these gifts blesses the Giver. We bless others when we serve them through our work;  thus, working in a job for which you are unsuited prevents you from reaching your full potential and also results in the inability to fully serve others and help them realize their potential.
  • We can help others understand the inherent value of work. In an opportunity society, all kinds of work are essential. This includes full- and part-time work and covers the spectrum from urban to agricultural, homemaking to corporate, artistic to technical.

Let us work toward a society that embraces and employs every kind of gift, skill, and talent.

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