Unemployment is not natural in the universe. God wants all human beings to work and find a source of meaning and sustenance in that labor. Yet in the United States in 2016, 5% of the population or more than 8 million people are unemployed; 6 million more are involuntarily employed only part-time; and 2.2 million have been unemployed six months or longer. Unemployment rates are increasing in many other countries due to changing technologies and trends in the global economy.
Unemployment is not just an economic problem. It is a spiritual challenge. Here are some readings and films that put stories on the statistics.
Readings and Prayers
• In an August 2015 article for BusinessInsider.com, Shana Lebowitz notes that "Psychologists say something scary happens when you're unemployed for a while." The experience can change your personality.
• Timothy Mullner's book A Spiritual Guide for the Unemployed is an accessible and up-tempo collection of prayers, meditations, and reflections on surviving the fears and uncertainties of unemployment. In an excerpt, he reflects on how unemployment can be a spiritual teacher.
• Prayer Upon Losing a Job by Robert Jones, a Presbyterian minister, is an intercessory prayer for those in this predicament. Given the frustration, isolation, and lack of meaning experienced by unemployed men and women, prayer is a necessity.
• Peace, Lord, Peace, a prayer by David Adam, calls out for peace for those on the street, facing defeat and unemployment.
• A Prayer for Baby Boomers in Distress was written after a Labor Department report revealed that those in their 50s and 60s are the greatest victims of economic down swings.
Film Portraits of Unemployment
These films provide opportunities for us to develop empathy and compassion for unemployed people around the world.
• The Company Men is a hard-hitting and creative examination of the scourge of unemployment, how it destroys dreams, brings untold pain and loss, and destablizes families.
• Everything Must Go is based on a short story by Raymond Carter about a man who is forced by circumstances beyond his control to take stock of his life. After losing his job and discovering his wife has left him, he has to re-evaluate his life while practicing the salutary art of letting go.
• The Measure of a Man is a remarkable portrait of what it's like to live in the prison of unemployment. A factory worker's job hunt includes a humiliating Skype interview, criticism of his video interview, and inept counselors. When he finally gets a job, he gets an inside look at the pain and suffering of others who are being fired.
• Mondays in the Sun is a Spanish film that follows six unemployed shipyard workers as they try to cope with the loss of their jobs. Each man has a different strategy, and we find ourselves identifying with all of them at one point or another in the story.
• Time Out is a French film directed by Laurent Cantet that conveys the soul-shattering debilitations of unemployment and the resiliency needed to survive while adrift in society.
• Tokyo Sonata is a contemporary fable that reflects the drastic changes rocking traditional understandings of work and family life in Japan. The central character is an administrator who loses his job and is too ashamed to tell his family.
• Two Days, One Night is a triumphant drama by the Dardenne brothers about a heroine who demonstrates grace under pressure. A factory worker learns that she will be a victim of downsizing unless she can convince her co-workers to give up their bonuses in order to save her job.
• Up in the Air focuses on the challenges faced by a career transition counselor — i.e. someone who fires people and informs them about services provided to help them find a new position. Writer and director Jason Reitman uses direct, unscripted scenes of ordinary Americans who have just gone through the humiliating, terrifying, and depressing experience of being fired. It conveys the mixture of volatile emotions which rise to the surface with unemployment.