Being unemployed or underemployed isn’t necessarily a bad thing for us and more importantly it may be good for our community. If you think this is a wild assertion, read on.
As late as the mid-19th century, the modern concept of “unemployment” didn’t exist in the United States. Most people lived on farms, and while paid work came and went, home industry—canning, sewing, and carpentry—was a constant. Even in the worst economic panics, people typically found productive things to do in their communities. The despondency and helplessness of unemployment were discovered, to the bafflement and dismay of cultural critics, only after factory work became dominant and cities swelled. It was also true that the family unit was secure and was more closely reliant on each other.
Today, that close family unit has been in many cases, dismantled. And, one theory of work holds that people tend to see and describe themselves in terms of their jobs, careers, or callings. Individuals who say their work is “just a job” emphasize that they are working for money rather than aligning themselves with any higher purpose. Those with pure careerist ambitions are focused not only on income but also on the status that comes with promotions and the growing renown of their peers. In the latter, one pursues a calling not only for pay or status, but also for the intrinsic fulfillment of the work itself.
Perhaps we should look at our capacity for compassion, deep understanding and our creative minds for the answers to our current woes and to our future. Even if you are financially stable, simple leisure is certainly one outcome of the increasing loss of job opportunities, but I would argue that many of us can and should look passionately to find ways to find fulfillment and build productive communities outside the workforce. The very things that help many of us are a routine, an absorbing distraction, a daily purpose, an identity, and a creative activity that leads to a sense of our autonomy. What if we could find ways to find meaningful work without formal wages and a steady job, but instead through a number of other avenues of payment including a bartering system or one of money paid at the completion of a task that would not only satisfy ourselves but be good for our community?
Do you believe, as have many proposed, that we are heading for an dystopian future sitting on a couch wasting time or worse, entering into a life of crime, as witness to our growing and burgeoning prison system will attest, or do you ascribe to the notion of living a life full of purpose and fulfillment that can be achieved with community support and guidance?
Do you have an opinion whether we should be looking to our universities to embrace the notion that they should once again be cultural centers of inquiry instead of what they seem to be today, another job preparation center?
We need your voice and expertise to get some very exciting initiatives going. We believe the answers to the questions and concerns of our time rest with us the individual and not with government. History is clear on this issue; true and lasting change always begins and eventually happens from the bottom up and never from the top down. Civil Rights, Women’s Suffrage, Marriage Equality, Affordable Care Act, and the list go on. All of these advances happened on the backs of our sisters and brothers who came before us.
If these questions and assertions interest you, please join us. We are in need of partners and patrons to keep our important work going. You can be a part of bringing us together to work toward positive change anytime, and for as little as $10 per month! Visit, call, or email to discover other levels of support and find out what your support can do!
Not ready to commit? Check out our wish list on our website www.community-zone.org for quick and easy ways to support our mission.
Keri L. Albright, President & CEO of Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way and Juli Corrigan, former Director of Outreach and Community Education at the CSIU, delivered a dynamic, sobering lecture on poverty both nationally and locally, to a large number of residents and league followers on Tuesday, November 18th.
Ms. Albright began by sharing with us the genesis of how the United Way began its intentional focus on poverty in 2005 by convincing the past board that the United Way was not affecting social change like they had hoped. After a two-year process of conducting community wide research on the root causes of many social problems in our society, it was agreed at the time that nobody else was working on these social problems on a large scale, and that the United Way could with all its resources tackle these social problems. United Way then changed their approach and instituted what is now referred to as the Priorities for Impact.
As many of you may know, the United Way is now set up with six councils of volunteers from a variety of social agencies to tackle the root causes of social problems in Northumberland, Snyder and Union Counties. The six councils are: Drug & Alcohol Abuse and Addiction, Poverty, Transportation, At-risk Teens, Quality Early Childhood Education and Acceptance and Understanding Diversity. Ms. Albright went on to share several wrenching and heartwarming stories of people she has met that deal with poverty on a daily basis. She also shared some striking numbers with the audience, including over 60,000 men, woman and children in Northumberland, Snyder and Union counties struggle at the extremes to afford the very basics and that the fastest and most likely way to be thrust into poverty is to be born there. Almost 8% of children in Pennsylvania are born into extreme poverty.
While there are a multitude of reasons for poverty in addition to being born into it, some of the other causes are a lack of education, divorce, a lack of job opportunity and the high cost of healthcare. Ms. Corrigan followed with some glaring and disturbing history and statistics on Poverty in America. She rightly pointed us to some good news about why we have made some progress since we declared the War on Poverty. The enactment of Social Security, Medicare and the importance of voting have helped many. She also shared with us how the government measures poverty. Clearly, the official poverty measure is way below what people actually need to survive. The second, and not so well known measure is the supplemental poverty measure which includes the basics of keeping families fed and warm, and finally the Living Wage, which is what individuals need to not only survive but thrive in our society.
Ms. Corrigan shared with the audience many slides of what counts as poverty. According to 2014 guidelines:
And for those who are not aware, the difference between minimum wage, poverty wage and living wage is as follows:
And finally, Ms. Corrigan focused on the dangerous path our elderly are facing. Nine out of ten 65 and older receive Social Security and 38% of that income is what they use to live on. The out of pocket expenses of the elderly that Medicare does not cover is herculean. According to a 2007 study:
We can only imagine the magnitude of increase that is present today.While what we learned in the presentation was disturbing and appalling, we were also left with some possible solutions.
In closing, I share some words of wisdom from Martin Luther King:
“I ask of you, and of myself, is that we constantly interrogate our own complicity with excess, that we always remain vigilant to notions of community that might, perhaps against our best intentions, sometimes, embrace a system of domination at the expense of others. Can we radically submit ourselves to the pursuit of equality and justice for all? If we choose to call ourselves Asian American, can we not also choose to be that kind of American that refuses to accept what America has been, and instead help build a better America even for others, who might not immediately seem to “belong” to us?In the end, whom do we mean by “us”? For me, if I choose to belong to a coalition, a community, an “us,” it must mean, we who remember the past; we who care about the future; we who are compassionate, generous, patient, and committed deeply to the welfare of others; we who agree that naming ourselves as an “us” is not an end, but a beginning.”
Elder Economic Security Standard (“Elder Index”)
http://www.basiceconomicsecurity.org/gateway.aspx (need to create a username and password to access local data)
Social Security Basic Facts
Poverty Rates in PA
Wage Comparison for Union County
Poverty Rates for Children and the Elderly
State-by-State Snapshot of Poverty Among Seniors: Findings from Analysis of the Supplemental Poverty Measure
How is Poverty Measured in the United States?
2014 Poverty Guidelines
How Does Bankruptcy Law Impact the Elderly’s Business and Housing Decisions?
How Much Is Enough? Out-of-Pocket Spending Among Medicare Beneficiaries: A Chartbook
Seniors Intervention Group Slide 16
Beyond Poverty: Preliminary Findings from the 2013-2014 Empowering Opportunities: Gateways Out of Poverty Initiative