Sunday, September 18, 2011

After a Trip to Best Buy: Thinking About Underemployment and How We Measure Hardship

Driving home from Best Buy this afternoon, I started to think about how we measure hardship. You see, the young man who helped me purchase a cable adapter for my school laptop shared with me that he is a college graduate who can't find a full-time job - even as a clerk at Best Buy. He's been working part-time there for two years as he tries to pay off $100,000 in college student loans.

He seemed depressed. I feel for him, I truly do. It can't be a good sign in the our country when the "best and brightest" of young adults fail to land jobs that give the rest of us the fullest of their talents. The news tells us the unemployment rate for recent college graduates is the highest it has been in 40 years.

Then again, as I drove home, I thought of my friend J. , a man in his mid-fifties who was laid off two years ago. He holds a PhD. in chemical engineering. The AARP reports that unemployment for people over 55 rose more than 300 percent in the last decades.

 So, which man is worse off?

For two years, my friend, his family's breadwinner tried to find work. Finally, a few weeks ago, he landed a consulting job. He is deeply grateful for the 40 hours weekly of paid work but he won't be paid for vacation days or sick days and, most importantly, the job doesn't offer him and his family health insurance.  Thank God his wife went back to work a few months ago (at a job for which she is overqualified.) That gave the family health insurance.

Which man is suffering more?

The young man whose dreams are being delayed? Or the older man with a family who feels as if his years of hard work and success are not valued by the marketplace?

I realized this is, in the end, an unanswerable question. We all have crosses to bear. That another is suffering does not take away someone else's pain. This is not a competition. We know that nothng in this world can truly fulfill us, even if we land that great job. We all need to keep our eyes on the journey to our destinies.

That said,  I do pray for these men. I pray that those who are suffering with job loss or underemployment find strength in knowing an immeasurable Love surrounds them. Always.

Gracious and loving God, you know our need for meaningful work. Send your Holy Spirit to guide those who are searching for employment. Help them to recognize the gifts and talents you have given them.

Deepen their desire to follow your will. Inspire them as they contact potential employers. Give them patience as they wait for responses. Shelter them from feelings of rejection. Protect them from discouragement. Give them courage to overcome fear.

Shower on them the graces they need to persevere. Let this time of searching become an opportunity to grow in faith, to cultivate the virtue of hope, and to experience your healing love. We ask this through Chirst our Lord. Amen


  1. Thanks, Dwija. I found it at...

  2. It's hard to know who's worse off, isn't it? From personal experience I imagined I'd have more at thirty than I do now (a house, a car, no debt etc). But, on the other hand, for someone older, who has been established and then is laid off, I can't imagine what that is like. It's the difference between never having what you worked for versus losing all your life's work isn't it?

  3. This is so important for us to remember for us that do have jobs. I think we do a disservice to our highschool grads promising them all the success and fulfillment in their jobs that they can imagine. We tell them to go off to any college of their choice because that's what student loans and parents are for. Then we tell them pick any major they want, because there will be a fulfilling job out there as soon as they graduate. Hard work is rarely explained in the process. Take what you can get seems too harsh a message. A certain level of poverty is never forewarned. I think of my husband's family when I speak of this and how going from a comfortable setting where anything and everything is provided, then being landed in a tough job market and being handed a unfulfilling job or underpaid job is a harsh wake up call. His sister has yet to find a job after graduating mostly because she has never worked a full day in her life and doesn't have any desire to as long as mom and dad keep paying the bills and the rest of the family are forever grumbling about their work- never satisfied with how much they make or what they have. Thank you for this. [stepping off of soapbox]

  4. @Sarah: I am with you. One young man I know complained to me about having to take a "crappy job" after grad school. The way my parents taught me, all work has dignity. There is no such thing as a "crappy job." We adults likely learn humility after years in the work force - and/or in raising our children.