Not being able to find another job compounds this anguish. Often what follows is divorce, depression and alcohol abuse.
To enter the home of a family who are worried sick about how to pay the bills breaks your heart. When you see the anxiety in the eyes of children as they worry about their parents, you are left feeling helpless as to what the church can do to help.
The church can provide love and support, and instill hope.
Few churches have the economic resources to do much beyond providing some food and small economic assistance. I don't know of a church that is in a position to take over mortgage payments or tuition bills.
Helping out families at Christmas is part of a church's pastoral care, but Christmas is only 12 days. The spirit of Christmas does not have much of a shelf life. "Why couldn't every day be like Christmas?" is a song on Elvis' Christmas album, and most of us wish it could be so.
The jobless situation is structural. To find cheap labor, many companies have shipped jobs to China or India or someplace else. Pensions are disappearing, especially for the working middle class.
The old truism that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer is all too true. I would add that the middle class is simply treading water in this economy. The tax code favors those who write it.
So, what can we do as concerned citizens? Two ways come to mind.
First of all, we can buy American.
I needed new appliances recently. I wanted to buy American, and found that Whirlpool makes products that are just as good —or better — and as competitively priced as foreign makes. My new stove has a big "made in America" sign on it. Also, these appliances were probably made in Michigan.
Same with a car. I wanted to buy a Ford because they had not taken bailout money. My Ford Escape was made in Kansas, not Michigan as I had hoped, but close enough.
I needed another vehicle a couple of years later and bought a Jeep. Yes, it has some Italian blood in it because Fiat helped bail out Chrysler, but it was made in Ohio. I bought both vehicles locally.
Finding clothing made in America is tougher, but still possible. Most of the food you buy at our local stores is American made.
So, something we can all do is buy American. Or invest in American companies. If I had bought Ford stock instead of my Escape, or Whirlpool stock, I would be somewhat richer. Buying American can pay off on several different levels.
The second way our country can help the jobless is to demand of our political leaders that they put into place a jobs program. One aspect of this could be to borrow from the New Deal (the WPA, for example) and set up and administer opportunities for work.
Extending unemployment benefits beyond an agreed-upon period of time should be linked with working in some capacity. Working for government benefits — if one is physically and mentally able — builds self-esteem. A handout eventually erodes it. Educational retraining programs should also be beefed up.
Jesus commanded us to help the least of those in our midst. The jobless fall into that category laid out in Matthew 25. We need to see ourselves as our brother and sister's keeper, and force our politicians to act to help the jobless. Just a fraction of what the Pentagon spends put toward a jobs problem would go a long way to achieve full employment.
If members of Congress could see the eyes of the children of the unemployed as the clergy see them, their hearts might turn from hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.
— By the Rev. Henry Idema, Tribune religion columnist