Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Unemployment, Young Folks, and the Church

As we trundle complacently towards the pending econopocalypse, some of the initial damage seems to be most strongly felt by the young. It ain't only swine flu that hits younglings hardest. It's unemployment.

Among the general population, joblessness is at 10.2% and rising. Unemployment rates among older teens and young adults are roughly 90% higher, at 19.1% and rising.

That means that among folks in that age group, we're not just in a harsh recession. We're in a depression. At the height of the Great Depression, unemployment was at 23%...which isn't far from the experience of our newly minted grownups. For college grads and folks looking for work right out of high school, things are financially fugly. And I know from personal experience just how soul-crushing that can be.

I ran smack into a recession in my first year out of U.Va., and it made for a dismal time. My folks had presented me with a chunk of change as a graduation present...but instead of paying for graduate ed school, it ended up feeding me and clothing me as I desperately searched for work.

Here I had a solid work history and a college degree from a reputable university, and I just couldn't get hired. I weren't slackin', neither. I looked for work every day for seven months. It was almost amusing how many jobs I didn't get. I didn't get the retail jobs and office jobs, sure. But I also couldn't get a call back for the night clerk job at a 7-11. Three different gas stations never responded to my application. I couldn't get jobs in the dishrooms of restaurants. My failure to get employment reached it's epic peak when I didn't get called back for a job shoveling coal into the furnace of a state-run mental institution.

Finally, I found work with the Salvation Army, driving vans full of bell ringers and running errands for minimum wage. Yeah, it wasn't much. Less than five bucks an hour, and no benefits. But it payed my share of the rent and fed me. I was truly, truly grateful for that job. It felt so good to work again, to not feel utterly useless.

This week, as I was poring over James 2, I found myself reflecting back on my experience, and wondering what congregations can do to help. So many churches lament about how it's so hard to engage "the young people," while so many of "the young people" are struggling through a difficult financial, emotional, and spiritual time.

Maybe we should think about ways we can be of service instead. Anyone doing anything interesting out there?