January 6, 2012
Reflecting on 2011, we give prayerful thought to the 13.1 million Americans who found themselves without a job at the end of the year. As people of faith, we continue to be concerned about our country’s slow economic recovery. While economists may focus on any GDP growth in 2011, we remain particularly concerned for those individuals often left on the margins of the conversation about economic recovery.
The average unemployment rate for 2011 was 8.9%. In particular, we continue to be deeply concerned about the long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more), of which there were 5.6 million last month alone— 42.5% of the unemployed population. This population in particular will suffer greatly if Congress does not extend unemployment insurance benefits for a full year when the two month extension expires in February. Among specific worker groups the average unemployment rate in 2011 for adult men was 8.7%, adult women 7.3%, whites 7.9%, blacks 14.5%, Hispanics 10.7%, and Asians 6.5%. Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track unemployment on American Indians, a 2010 study by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reports, “from the first half of 2007 to the first half of 2010, the American Indian unemployment rate nationally increased 7.7% to 15.2%.”
2011 was a year of stalemates and partisan politics in Washington. Meanwhile low- and moderate-income families across the U.S. struggled to find a job, put food on the table, afford medicine, and meet other basic needs. Unfortunately, economic predictions for 2012 remain dire. Still as communities of faith, we hope Congress will recognize the urgency of current circumstances and come together to aid the jobless population immediately.
Congress must make comprehensive job creation its first priority in 2012. Serious job proposals would target job creation programs to low-income communities and vulnerable population groups in order to reach every sector of the population that is suffering from unemployment, especially in the most distressed communities. In addition, any new jobs created through federal legislation must generate sustainable employment that pays fair wages and provides opportunities for advancement. Any new jobs program must address the immediate needs while also creating a long-term path to economic security for both workers and employers.
Congress must recognize that many families continue to struggle to make ends meet, and therefore funding must be used to strongly support safety net programs. Safety net programs, like unemployment insurance, job training, and education, are a life-line for millions of workers who have found themselves unemployed in this economy. Without this vital assistance many people will lose their homes, will be unable to pay for food or medicine, and will fall deeper into poverty.
Our faiths inspire our deep commitment to unemployed workers and their families. We are now looking to Congress to ensure that the federal government continues to work with our faith communities in this effort. To this end, we will keep you abreast on the monthly unemployment situation, sharing stories and information on struggling families who often fall under the radar.
As we reflect on our economy’s health during the past year and look towards a 2012 that is not expected to feature strong growth, we remind our elected officials that they must act soon to aid those who have suffered unemployment far too long. As scripture tells us, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”Proverbs 31:8-9
You can find DHN’s Jobs Statement of Principles at http://domestichumanneeds.org/uploads/DHN-Jobs-Statement-of-Principles.pdf.
Bread for the World
Church of the Brethren
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Interfaith Worker Justice
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Mennonite Central Committee U.S., Washington Office
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
National Council of Churches
National Council of Jewish Women
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
The Office of Social Justice of the Christian Reformed Church
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness
Union for Reform Judaism
The United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
The United Methodist Church-General Board of Church and Society