C. Douglas Smith serves as the President of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy and is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He is a graduate of James Madison University and Lexington Theological Seminary, and he is a Fellow of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of VA. He serves as Board Chair of Heifer International and has served on the boards of The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, the VA Fair Trial Project, the VA Commission on Sexual Violence, and Gov. Tim Kaine's Poverty Commission, and he is the founder of the Coffee Party 2.0 pilot project Belief in America.
by C. Douglas Smith
All of us have witnessed the financial and emotional toll of unemployment, either by directly experiencing it ourselves or by watching a family member or friend struggle to find work. The experience can be simply devastating. Even in the best of economies it can be hard to find gainful employment – and clearly today, we are far from the best of economies.
Unfortunately, unemployed Americans today have a bleak outlook ahead of them as national unemployment numbers continue to hover just below double digits. Multiplying the pain for families is the stark realization that unemployment support is running out for many job searchers. As this happens families face home foreclosure, plummeting net worth, and the erosion of any retirement savings. In a word, the job situation in America has become dire and the impact on our families and economy is tragic.
By way of a photo essay by Equal Voices for Families, consider Martinsville, Virginia where unemployment is over twice the national average. Once a booming factory town known for its furniture and textile industries, Martinsville has experienced the double whammy of job-killing free trade agreements and the offshoring of the country’s manufacturing base. Now locals are finding jobs scarce, once productive companies shuttered, and 25% of the population is living in poverty. For houses of worship that means increased needs for nutrition and financial support, incidents of stress-driven domestic violence, and deep depression that can wreck family systems.
Leonard Jones, a retired minister and former Martinsville NAACP president, is one resident of Martinsville that has personally felt the pain of skyrocketing unemployment and poverty. At 54 years old, Jones remembers when the vibrant town throve on manufacturing work, but now he only sees bleak job prospects and increasingly desperate families. Along with financial uncertainty, the lack of jobs in Martinsville has forced Pastor Jones and many of his neighbors into early retirement, creating a cascade of long-term challenges for him and his family. Many Americans face the very same challenges as they struggle to make ends meet.