Unemployment and a proper view of the human person

As readers know, I live in Michigan.  And our state is in one helluvan economic slump right now, due to a number of factors.  Pundits continue to talk about what caused this, taking a macro view of our economic situation.  I’d like to take a micro view – what unemployment and underemployment does to the individual, particularly to a man who is the head of a household.

I’ve been there myself – twice, actually.  This first time was for about 9 months after I graduated from college in 1992.  The nation was in a recession of sorts and there were no jobs (or, no professional jobs anyway) to be had in my community.  The second time was during my final year of law school.  I had a part-time job during that year; what I lacked was the much more important, post-graduation full-time job I was supposed to already have secured.  I spent the entire year applying, seeking, priddying up my resume and getting more and more dejected as my classmates started reporting, one by one, the jobs they had landed.  The best I could do was a clerking job for a local small firm, and the managing attorney wasn’t interested in bringing me on full-time as an attorney, even when/if I passed the bar exam.  It was a terrible year, and the physical, emotional and spiritual effects lasted well beyond that.

Now, as a number of my friends – Catholic fathers of homeschooling families – are losing their jobs, I find myself considering what it is about gainful employment that makes us tick.  Why do we need so desperately to work to have a sense of self-worth?  For many of us, it’s largely about providing for our families.  If we can’t do this, we are “worth” less than those who can.  And reassurances that God doesn’t see us as any less don’t really help.  This isn’t like being upset that you don’t have a bigger car or that you don’t earn as much as “X”.  No, there’s something fundamental to our nature (for men, at least) missing when we can’t provide and be productive at all.  In one sense, who we are matters more than what we do, but working/providing IS who we are.

I know that, during my own bouts with this, there was nothing anyone could do or say to make me feel better, so I’m at a loss as to how to approach my own friends who are going through it now.  Any thoughts? 



Jason Negri received his bachelor's and master's degrees from Franciscan University and his law degree as a member of the inaugural class of Ave Maria School of Law. He is a practicing attorney and the elected Treasurer of Hamburg Township in Michigan. He is a member of Holy Spirit Church in Brighton, where he sings in the choir and chairs the parish council. He is also the founder and executive director of the Daniel Coalition, an organization of laity formed to advocate for victims of clerical sexual abuse in the Diocese of Lansing. He and his wife Samantha have 5 children and 2 grandchildren.

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