Every day, I receive at least one Email from a clergyperson or lay leader whose synagogue, church, or mosque is in serious financial trouble --- because the congregants are hurting. Some have lost jobs, others are frightened. Some are working harder and longer to “protect”” their jobs, and have no time left over for community or God.
It's not "just" anecdotes, of course; the national numbers bear this out, and the anecdotes put flesh and blood upon the numbers. The official unemployment rate is now over 10% -- the worst since before World War II.
If you include those would-be workers who have been turned down for jobs so often that they have given up looking, the unemployment rate in the USA is over 17%.
One family of every four has suffered a job loss in the last year. These losses damage everything -- nutritious food, adequate health care, pursuing an education, even religious life -- as thousands of synagogues, churches, and mosques are finding when their congregants’ contributions of money and time dry up. And the job losses continue.
I have been using the official word for this -- unemployment. But that sounds like somemebody stubbing their toe on the way to the job and ending up, by accident, "un"employed. In actuality, someone's decisions destroyed those jobs. DISemployment is a more honest word.
But official Washington (including President Obama) and official Big Business don't care.
They are operating according to a bitterly sarcastic teaching by the poet Carl Sandburg:
Stocks are property, yes.
Bonds are property, yes.
Jobs are property?
No, nix, nah, nah.
And so they boast about the "recovery" of banks and stock prices while hundreds of thousands continue to lose their jobs.
This policy violates the most basic teachings of all religious and spiritual traditions about the profound value of decent work, decent livelihood, and decent time for community and Spirit.
America needs full employment at living wages with livable hours and free time for family, neighborhood, civic engagement, and spiritual life.
There are two ways to get there. Both make sense. Both are necessary:
A massive public-works program paying living wages to rebuild the rotting infrastructure of American life. That means not just school buildings but skilled teachers, not just subsidies for super-fast and energy-efficient railroads but subsidies for art and music and neighborhood festivals, not just Internet-wiring every city but teaching all Americans how to use it effectively.
Sharing the work and sharing free time. "High productivity" means fewer workers can produce more output. This is not "good" in itself, but only if it is used to benefit society as a whole. Higher wages and salaries, and more free time, is where most of the benefit should go.
Since the 1980s, almost all of it has gone instead into higher profits for big corporations. Wages and salaries have stagnated - and now are declining. Free time has diminished.
What we need now are laws pegging the work week at 30 or 35 hours, forbidding compulsory overtime, and limiting voluntary overtime (perhaps requiring that employers pay into a special "free time" social fund for overtime, but not entice workers into overworking with higher per-hour pay).
These "economic" issues are also, even more deeply, spiritual issues. It is spiritually crushing not to be allowed to work, thereby contributing to the social good and meeting one's own needs as well. It is spiritually crushing to have no time to rest, to play, to visit neighbors, to shape a loving family, to pray and meditate.
The single mother trying desperately to hold three minimum-wage jobs to pay the rent and buy food shares this need for a balanced life with the $500,000-a-year lawyer who is forced to work 80 billable hours a week in order to stay in the firm.
Without this sacred balance of work for all, decent livelihood for all, and rest for all, our society becomes pathological. Drugs, disemployment, depression, despair take over -- and violence, overseas with bombs and at home with guns.
With this sacred balance, we can create a society of mature and balanced human beings -- God willing, inshallah, im yirtzeh hashem.
How do we make this change? The present arrangement in which almost all the benefits of increased productivity flow into the pockets of a few very large corporations is based on their political power. (For a powerful description of how this works in regard to banks and home-ownership, read the Bill Moyers Journal, "How Wall Street Controls Washington -- and America," at --
So there needs to be another kind of power -- the empowerment of the grass roots. Our religious communities could and should be at the heart of this, because that is where the value of a balanced life with free time for family, neighborhood, and the Spirit is most strongly held. Together with our labor unions, they should be initiating coalitions that include neighborhood associations, PTA's, and citizen-volunteer groups; teachers, social workers, and similar professional groups; and wise business-people.
Just as individuals need to weave together a life in which work, income, and rest all have a part, so we need to weave together these different strands of our society into a community of sharing.
How do we begin? Below this article, add your own comment so we can have a conversation with each other. Together, let's see what we can stir into action.
With blessings that we come to share worthy work, a decent income, and time for community and spirit --