What happens to a nation whose citizens no longer work?
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Steve had it all—a thriving small business in Florida, an attractive home, beautiful family, two cars, and the American dream of wealth and prosperity within his grasp. He had been working toward this goal for almost 15 years. Flush with cash, he began looking for ways to leverage his business income.
Having kept a keen eye on the real estate market, he knew not to invest. The sunshine state’s housing market was at fever pitch and properties were overvalued. He decided to wait for the market correction, which would cause prices to come down. After all, he knew history repeats itself; after every price boom, there is always a bust.
But when the collapse did finally arrive, Steve was not prepared for the scope of it. The entire nation, in fact, the world, was suddenly on the brink of financial disaster. Soon, Steve found himself out of business, out of work, and out of cash. Faced with a destroyed dream, and the prospect of having to work for someone else for the first time in years, he wondered how it all went wrong.
Work finally came after 16 months. Steve was offered a management position 5,000 miles away in another country, only to be laid off within nine months when the crisis hit overseas. He was forced to return to Florida, where the pattern continued. Each company within his chosen field was downsized or went bankrupt.
By the end of 2010, southern Florida’s economy was still suffering from the recession’s effects. Seasonally adjusted unemployment reached 12.2 percent, and the housing market was crushed. In March 2011, South Florida home prices hit their lowest level since the recession began, a devastating blow that reflected the national trend. It caused many economists to speculate that recent market gains were superficial.
Today, a stunning 46 percent of all homes in Florida are underwater, and their owners owe more than their market value—over double the national average of 22.7 percent. The South Florida Business Journal cited a study by CoreLogic that showed Florida ranks third behind Arizona (50 percent) and Nevada (63 percent) in number of homes with negative equity.
This story and others could be repeated by untold thousands across a once-wealthy, prosperous nation. What happens to the national psyche of a once-productive people when millions remain out of work for months or years?
According to a Pew Research Center survey, long-term unemployment (six months or longer) has a deep impact on an individual’s emotional well-being, career prospects, and finances.
“Of those who have experienced an unemployment spell of at least six months, more than four-in-ten (44%) report that the recession has caused―‘major changes’ in their lives,” it revealed. “By comparison, fewer than a third (31%) of those who had been unemployed less than six months and 20% of adults who were not unemployed during the recession say they were similarly affected.”
This is bad news according to the Bureau of Labor, which stated in a report that “the median duration of unemployment stood at 24.2 weeks in May 2010, meaning half of the unemployed—the largest proportion since World War II—have been looking for work for six months or more. The previous high, in May 1983, was 12.3 weeks, about half the level today.”
This factor is particularly problematic as those who have been out of work six months or longer often suffer the most.
“Slightly less than three-in-ten adults who were unemployed less than three months (29%) and those jobless for three to five months (28%) say they lost some self-respect while they were not working. That proportion rises somewhat to 38% among those unemployed for six months or longer. The long-term unemployed also are twice as likely as those unemployed less than six months to have sought professional help to deal with depression and other emotional issues (24% vs. 12%)” (Pew Research Center).
When out-of-work husbands are resigned to relying on their wives’ income, or wives, as a result of their joblessness, feel trapped at home, stress levels build. In such a tough economic climate, young college graduates—or even 30-somethings—often decide it is easier to live with their parents than face a cutthroat job market. This also occurs with middle-aged citizens who stop searching for jobs after realizing they are hopelessly lost in a haze of rapid-fire technological change.
As is often the case, the stress of unemployment significantly affects relationships with family and friends. “Four-in-ten unemployed report they lost contact with close friends while jobless. Roughly the same proportion (42%) report strained relations with their families…A small proportion acknowledged that they had problems with alcohol or drugs (5%) during the time they were jobless” (ibid.).
The Pew study also stated, “Few significant differences are evident between workers who were unemployed less than three months and those who were jobless for three to five months,” the report stated. “But among those unemployed for six months or longer, experiences with emotional problems increased dramatically.”
According to Reuters, the number of new claims for unemployment benefits nationwide rose unexpectedly in early June 2011. The increase has reinforced concerns that the labor market recovery has stalled.
State jobless benefit claims for the week ending June 4 initially increased by 1,000—totaling 427,000. An additional poll, however, showed that economists had expected claims to drop to 415,000 from a previously reported count of 422,000. Compounding these worries, the U.S. government stated that the unemployment rate notched up to 9.2 percent in June, and only 18,000 jobs were added to nonfarm industries.
Although there has been a downward trend in new claims since the beginning of the year, this recent increase has dampened countrywide optimism. To add insult to injury, the news coincided with a report that showed lower-than-expected expansion in the service sector, which employs 90 percent of the nation’s workforce.
With the U.S. economic recovery plan showing signs of fracture, the monthly unemployment reports will be a key indicator within the coming months. The data could cause companies to pull back on hiring—a major problem for workers struggling to obtain steady employment.
Still, economists continue to be optimistic, stating that the recent signs of weakness are a one-time fluke, and do not reflect the underlying trend—a bold position considering that the economy keeps being hit by negative shockwaves. Clearly, if the rate of job growth does not pick up soon, it will be a grim future for the millions of Americans who are still looking for jobs.
Workers drive a nation. If there are no workers, no products can be manufactured. If payrolls are not increasing, then people cannot stir the economy with spending.
Long-term joblessness means fewer dollars for consumption, deficit reduction and control. It also equates to fewer individual and corporate tax dollars contributing to government revenues. Adding to the issue is the increase in billions of dollars in expenditures for entitlement benefits.
Less money coming in, and more money going out—a recipe for disaster!
When there are not enough funds, employees are laid off, roads cannot be repaired, infrastructure begins to crumble, and cities go to waste. Because of joblessness, poverty levels rise and crime goes up. In certain cases, incarcerated criminals may need to be released for lack of income to the state, which forces an already downsized police force to contend with an increasingly violent society. Add to this natural disasters, which have driven food prices through the roof, and have further pushed those hanging on to even a part-time job down poverty’s steep cliff.
All one has to do is read about Detroit, Michigan, or Chicago, Illinois, to understand this pattern.
“What is left in Englewood and West Englewood [suburbs of Chicago] draws comparison to the worst of Detroit,” The Chicago Tribune reported. “As residents fled and investors pulled out, the number of abandoned buildings and vacant lots on many streets outnumbers occupied buildings.
“Into that emptiness has washed a flood of urban ills. Drug dealers use the abandoned houses to store their stashes, addicts break in to shoot up. Sexual predators drag victims into empty houses and prostitutes find decrepit ruins convenient for doing business.”
Such a cycle has caused extreme hopelessness for many across the country. Safe neighborhoods once filled with innocent, laughing children are now dangerous hangouts for gun-toting gang members. White-picket-fence homes are boarded up, their owners forced to default on their mortgages when they lost their jobs.
Since no one wants to move into empty houses in unsafe neighborhoods, remaining residents are forced to make a decision: stand their ground in homes that they have invested in, hoping the economy picks up and allows them to turn a profit by selling, or start a life elsewhere, with the knowledge their once-beloved place will soon become just another residential casualty.
Having lived in a neighborhood for decades and with no other place to go, most cannot help but stay. They are forced to accept the hand dealt them, all while feeling there is virtually no hope for themselves—or the future of the country.
How has the nation slipped into such decline?
America has long been known for its abundance and ability to produce and manufacture on a massive scale. The nation has the greatest concentration of natural resources in the world. This allowed it for a time to produce the majority of the world’s oil, steel, coal, tin, iron, lead and copper, among other important metals.
At the same time, it also had the governmental stability necessary to maximize those resources. Because of this, the U.S. became the envy of the world—many millions wanted to emigrate there.
At that time, Americans were proud to be farmers, to be able to work the land they possessed and earn the kind of living they desired. Opportunities abounded—nothing was out of the question. They considered the United States unique, had hope for the country’s future, and worked hard to help make it great.
In his book America and Britain in Prophecy, David C. Pack writes, “America’s forefathers could never have envisioned this nation as the global superpower it became. The United States has continually been at the forefront of economic prosperity, medical science, technology, food production, sanitation, architecture, space exploration, etc. Its citizens enjoy freedoms unattainable to so many.”
One of the reasons America became great was that in times of difficulty, its people were ignited with passion for their country. They stood together with the knowledge that if they did not, their homeland could be overrun by opposing forces. Such events—for example the Civil War, the Great Depression and World War II—made them realize how special the United States really was.
Since that time, however, there has not been a unifying event that has defined the country and forced citizens to appreciate it in quite the same way. Instead, many Americans have lost focus, no longer considering the nation or the relative peace it experiences a blessing. The U.S. life of abundance is now taken for granted. The nation has moved from understanding that achieving the American Dream takes diligent hard work to believing it should be delivered on a silver spoon.
Due to this, the majority today do not have a strong work ethic, and the small number of unemployed who are fervently seeking employment have to swim against a torrential current. America has turned its back on its founding principles of drive, ingenuity and faith in “Divine Providence,” as the Declaration of Independence states.
Yet faith is even more vital than even the Founding Fathers realized. This is especially true when trying to make sense of the hardships in life.
The third book of the Bible, Leviticus, introduces the principle of cause and effect. It shows that if a nation moves away from the principles outlined there, it will lose its drive toward success—and in turn, its prosperity and blessings will fall by the wayside.
Notice: “If you walk in My [God’s] statutes, and keep My commandments, and do them…I will have respect unto you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you, and establish My covenant with you…But if you will not hearken unto Me, and will not do all these commandments; and if you shall despise My statutes [laws], or if your soul abhor My judgments, so that you will not do all My commandments, but that you break My covenant…I will break the pride of your power…” (Lev. 26:3, 9, 14-15, 19).
Notice the phrase “pride of your power.” Pride in the Hebrew language (from which the Old Testament is translated) means “exaltation,” “majesty,” “pride,” “excellence” (Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon). On the other hand, power is translated to mean either might or strength in a physical, personal, social or political sense.
God does not say that he will break a nation’s power, but rather its pride. Consider. In exchange for quick fixes, Americans have shipped jobs overseas, and have in essence, given away the pride of its power, and of its prestige in the eyes of the world. Its military is declining in part because the nation no longer stands united during a time of war. The threat of being invaded by another country is almost considered laughable.
Yet compared to almost every other country in the world, America is still on top physically. It has the largest GDP. Although storms have destroyed millions of acres of crops, the nation possesses more arable land than almost any other nation. It is its fighting spirit that has been dimmed.
Unemployment plays a role in this. When people such as Steve are out of work for an extended period of time with no prospects in sight, it can cause them to be discouraged about their future. They lose the big picture of where they are headed in their lives. If enough people are out of work, it can result in a feeling of national hopelessness. A people without hope can quickly turn to attitudes of indifference and amorality. This, in turn, causes the decline of a country—and the hopelessness now evidenced in such abandoned suburbs as those of Detroit and Chicago.
Add to this growing political confusion, worsening weather trends, unrest in the Middle East, a constant threat from terrorism, riots across Europe and talk of them coming to the U.S., drought, and new antibiotic-resistant diseases—the future itself seems confusing, dire, hopeless.
Everyone yearns to know what is around the corner for America and the world at large, and longs to know that they can be safe in the coming years. But most are unable to look forward, and must instead contend with the compounding troubles that beset them today.