Peggy Noonan marked Labor Day weekend with a column in The Wall Street Journal that celebrated the joy of work.
A job isn't only a means to a paycheck, it's more. "To work is to pray," the old priests used to say. God made us as many things, including as workers. When you work you serve and take part. To work is to be integrated into the daily life of the nation. There is pride and satisfaction in doing work well, in working with others and learning a discipline or a craft or an art. To work is to grow and to find out who you are.
In return for performing your duties, whatever they are, you receive money that you can use freely and in accordance with your highest desire. A job allows you the satisfaction of supporting yourself or your family, or starting a family. Work allows you to renew your life, which is part of the renewing of civilization.
There are an estimated 11.5 million unemployed people in America now, and those who do not have sufficient work or who've left the workforce altogether inflate that number further.
This is the real reason jobs and employment are the No. 1 issue in America's domestic life. And what I have been thinking in the weeks leading up to this weekend is very simple: "Thank you, God, that I have a job." May more of us be able to say those words on Labor Day 2014.
Peggy Noonan's commentary remainded me of Blessed John Paul II's encyclical, On Human Work. The pope had once worked in a factory, while studying at night in an underground seminary. Those were tough times. Even so, he never forgot what he witnessed in the factory: the fundamental dignity of work that affirmed, rather than extinguished man's nature as a creature made in God's image.
This truth bears repeating, because we live at a time when the moral value of work has been undermined by the bad behavior and policies of unethical Wall Street bankers. But there's another danger arising from generous government subsidies that lead some people to discontinue or delay their search for work. A friend who runs a small business that provides and maintains laundry machines tells me he can't find people who are interested in basic maintinance work with an annual salary of $60,000. He speculates that would-be employees are getting by on unemployment benefits, while doing some work under the counter; they don't want the inconvience or stress of full-time work.
I don't know if his analysis is correct, but it is worth considering whether we sufficiently value and consciously celebrate the civic, familial and spiritual benefits of work and share that understanding with the young. And there is evidence that my friend might be right. David Brooks, a New York Times columnist has noted the rising level of unemployment among Americans in their prime working years.
in 1954, about 96 percent of American men between the ages of 25 and 54 worked. Today that number is around 80 percent. One-fifth of all men in their prime working ages are not getting up and going to work.
According to figures from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States has a smaller share of prime age men in the work force than any other G-7 nation. The number of Americans on the permanent disability rolls, meanwhile, has steadily increased. Ten years ago, 5 million Americans collected a federal disability benefit. Now 8.2 million do.
In his encyclical John Paul wrote
Man is made to be in the visible universe an image and likeness of God himself, and he is placed in it in order to subdue the earth3. From the beginning therefore he is called to work. Work is one of the characteristics that distinguish man from the rest of creatures, whose activity for sustaining their lives cannot be called work. Only man is capable of work, and only man works, at the same time by work occupying his existence on earth. Thus work bears a particular mark of man and of humanity, the mark of a person operating within a community of persons. And this mark decides its interior characteristics; in a sense it constitutes its very nature.
Let's pray that our country, especially business owners and political leaders, never loses a sense of urgency about creating jobs and taking a chance on someone who wants to work. Let's pray that those who aren't working now don't stop looking.
And if we are blessed to have a job, let's thank God for it.