remember when ‘get a job’ seemed like no big deal?

panhandler-goes-to-work3 

at least he has a job - photo by Gary Millard, Four White Walls

 When I was 16 years old, in the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I walked into a wallet and leather goods outlet store near my parent’s house, applied for a job, and a week later was their newest associate. I didn’t apply anywhere else and I certainly wasn’t thinking about what would happen if I didn’t land the job. Sixteen years later and my wife’s baby sister, having just graduated from high school, applied to over 40 jobs of comparable quality this spring… and didn’t receive a single phone call.

Indeed times are tough these days, as evidenced by a recent article in the Arizona Republic on rising unemployment and the introduction of a somewhat startling statistic: as many as 14.8% of Arizona could be unemployed when defined as ‘discouraged workers’ who have given up looking and part-timers unable to land a full-time gig. Perhaps just as amazing are the number of comments on the article authoritatively declaring the discouraged as simply lazy, worthy of any and all wrath that entails. But are they really just lazy? Nobody likes to have their time wasted, running around for seemingly no reward. And besides, aren’t we the same society who celebrates Homer “You tried your best and failed miserably. The lesson is, never try” Simpson?

As unemployment spikes, it’s probably not a surprise that homelessness is doing the same, and shockingly, much of that increase is due to families:  a whopping 370% increase in homeless families.  No doubt these families’ primary earners started off simply unemployed, moved on to discouraged, before finally getting off at the end of the line at homeless. 

What do all these folks have in common?  Whether unemployed, underemployed, discouraged, homeless or something else, they all sit in the food bank sweet spot. The demand on food banks has increased lock-and-step with these increases, and while the public has been incredibly generous thus far in 2009, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t concern about the future.

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