Job

Working Family Values

When we send our children out into the world of work, we assume that if they can get their foot in the door and get a job, then they can move up the ladder and take care of themselves and their families. The job may not be perfect, but they will be able to make ends meet and have time to be both good workers and good parents.

The reality, however, is that millions of jobs in the United States are not these kinds of jobs. Nationwide, about one-third of jobs are low wage, paying less than two-thirds of the male median wage, and, more often than not, don't come with health insurance, paid time off, or retirement plans. Many workers in low-wage jobs do not even know what their work schedule is for next week, let alone what they'll do if they need a sick day.

Low-wage workers and their families are often excluded from what most of us would consider normal activities, such as taking a paid sick day if their child is sick. This is a moral outrage. In a nation where the majority of children do not have a stay-at-home parent, how should families cope when a child gets the flu? Leave the child at daycare and get all the other children sick? Risk their jobs by missing a day of work? Every day in the world's richest nation, parents are forced to choose between being a good parent and being at their job.

One of the key characteristics of low-wage jobs is that they aren't subject to the same kinds of basic labor standards as other jobs. High-wage jobs often provide the kinds of benefits that workers with families need, such as the flexibility to take an hour to take the children to the dentist and then make it up later, or paid time off for maternity and paternity leave. But those in low-wage jobs, who are also in need of family-friendly policies, simply don't get these kinds of perks.

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2007
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Secretary of Woe

Former Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill, an embarrassment to the Bush administration, was among the first to comment publicly on the Enron debacle in 2002, with a sound bite that is likely to endure as a signature statement of the market ideology of the Bush years:

"Companies come and go; it is part of the genius of capitalism."

The comment was a powerful disclosure of the governing ideology of our society. We may observe of that sound bite:

1) O'Neill spoke without any hint of irony. He seemed genuinely to believe his own mantra.

2) At the same time, however, we had to credit O'Neill, a consummate insider, with an immense cover-up in his utterance. He innocently suggested that capitalism is an unfettered system that operates unencumbered, all by itself. O'Neill, however, did not live in a bubble of isolation. He undoubtedly knew of the multiple covert manipulations by the key market players in their influence upon government, whereby the cards are stacked for the big ones and against the little ones.

3) One is struck in his sound bite by a remarkable lack of empathy for those who genuinely lose and suffer when "companies go," for the "going" is not simply a statistical fluctuation, but a huge displacement that includes loss of job and savings, and often thereby loss of home. O'Neill's dismissive slogan continued:

"Part of the genius of capitalism is people get to make good decisions or bad decisions, and they get to pay the consequences or to enjoy the fruits of their decisions."

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2002
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When Bad Things Happen to Good People

For some of us the unfairness of life is so galling that we can barely hide our bitterness, which often exudes onto others. Our deepest resentment and blame may be secretly directed at God. Perhaps because we fear the wrath, disapproval, or abandonment of God, we hide these dark unwanted feelings even from ourselves. We unconsciously curse God in the darkness of our interior being, believing that as long as we don't know that these feelings exist, then we are not held responsible for them.

But Job's wife was right. At the height of Job's misery, when God gave Satan the freedom not only to take all that he loved and possessed but also to afflict his body with putrefying sores, Job's wife told him to curse God and die. Although her motivations were ambiguous and may have been less than honorable, her disturbing exhortation holds an important and often overlooked truth. Sometimes, we need to take the risk of cursing God and dying.

When these bitter feelings exist, confessing them gives a better chance of healing our soul than hiding them from ourselves or God. Perhaps only with God can a relationship be nurtured and sustained by bitter outpourings of blame, resentment, and cursing.

If we do risk such "unrighteousness," the necessary death that follows may not be literal, but spiritual and psychological. Two deaths are necessary: one, the death of our persona, and two, the death of our image of God. Our secret self-image of being righteous and innocent and our image of God as a god of divine justice based on meritocracy keep us from truly experiencing grace. The death of our perceptions of self and God opens the doorway to grace. This is the great lesson of Job.

Is Suffering Just a Cruel Cosmic Joke?

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1999
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