The dignity of work
The “Great Recession” is said to be over, but try telling that to the more than 3.7 million long-term job hunters who have been searching for 27 weeks or more. Studies also show that a larger share of the long-term unemployed are over age 50 compared to job hunters with shorter unemployment periods. This “unlucky subset,” as the Brookings Institution refers to them, are often highly skilled and eager to work, but either priced out of a competitive job market by younger workers or, most cruelly, stigmatized by the fact of their joblessness.
Recognizing these grim statistics, a number of Jewish organizations were relieved when the Senate passed a five-month extension of federal unemployment benefits. As Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism put it, Judaism teaches that “the highest form of tzedaka is to help another person achieve self-sufficiency. We must help people support themselves by maintaining crucial assistance at this uncertain time.” Saperstein urged the House to bring up and support this vital legislation.
Locally, addressing the needs of the unemployed and underemployed is the Jewish Vocational Service of MetroWest NJ, which this year marks its 75th anniversary (see related article). Each decade has brought a new set of challenges, from absorbing and Americanizing new immigrants to helping veterans readjust to civilian life to helping Soviet refugees navigate their newfound freedom. With support from the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, corporate and individual gifts, and state and federal government grants, JVS is also a resource to the wider community, helping non-English speakers and those with special needs learn the skills they need to find gainful employment.
It is a mission straight out of Torah, which makes a direct connection between human dignity and earning a living. JVS has faced its own financial challenges, but is now on firmer footing to serve as an indispensable resource not only to the “unlucky subset” but to all those hoping to earn their portion of the American dream.
May they go from strength to strength.