Economy Offers Hope, Catholic Charities Delivers Help
Saturday, February 01, 2014 by Monsignor Michael M. Boland

With the 2014 federal and state legislative sessions upon us, we as Catholics and Christians must be sure lawmakers keep a realistic pulse on the needs of all of our brothers and sisters, for our society is measured by how our weakest members are faring.   While the improving economy brings hope and jobs to some, to others the improvement is scarcely being felt.   As we celebrate the growth in jobs and declining unemployment, we must also remember to be cautiously optimistic about the numbers being bandied about.  

We know that the unemployment rate has dropped considerably since the height of the recession—it was less than 7 percent nationally in December 2013 compared to 11.3 percent when it peaked in December of 2009.  This is good news.  But we also know that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of November 2013, Illinois still had one of the highest unemployment rates of the 50 states at 8.7 percent.   The fact that we are lagging nearly two percentage points behind the rest of the country is definitely not good news.   

There is also the matter of the underemployment rate, which counts those looking for work, those who want a full-time job but who can only find part-time work, as well as discouraged job seekers.   As of November 2013, that number had improved, but was still hovering around 13 percent.  

We also know that although individuals may be employed full-time, in many cases they are not earning enough to support their families.  While there were roughly 200,000 jobs added to our economy each month in 2013, only 10 percent of those jobs came from high-wage sector jobs in the automotive, construction, and oil and gas exploration areas.  Nearly half of the jobs were from the low-wage sectors of retail, leisure and hospitality, temporary workers, and low-wage segments of health care.   

While the labor statistics do help explain the big picture, at Catholic Charities, we see the faces behind the numbers.  Well before the statisticians finish their crunching, we have already fed, clothed and sheltered a family of four whose father lost his job.  As they try to explain why people are still suffering, we have already provided job training to a single mother of two so she could get a higher paying job to support her family.   And as the politicians debate whether to extend unemployment benefits, we have already provided homeless prevention services to a family about to lose their home.

In good times and bad, Catholic Charities is there to make sure that people can take advantage of new opportunities in the job market, and we are there when the opportunities are few and far between.  We know first-hand the struggles people are having and we are compelled to speak out on their behalf.   

When the budget battles begin in Washington and Springfield, Catholic Charities will be strongly urging lawmakers to remember the real stories behind the numbers and to preserve and expand the vital safety net of services that families rely on for food, child care, job training, education, substance abuse treatment, counseling, and affordable housing.   Those critical services that keep low-income families afloat must go hand-in-hand with creating a favorable business environment so that companies can thrive and afford to pay their employees living wages.   In Illinois, it is imperative that the state resolve its dire fiscal crisis which negatively impacts every citizen and business in the state.  

As the “State of the Union” and “State of the State” Addresses kick off the legislative sessions for 2014, please join Catholic Charities in improving the “State of Well-Being” for all families, especially those who have not yet been touched by the economic recovery.  

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