Nearly 36 months ago, at the beginning of what is now referred to as "the great recession," a pastor invited those in the Sunday morning worship service needing a job or wanting to improve their current employment situation to come forward and pray. Soon, people were kneeling from one end of the wooden altar to the other responding to an offer of spiritual support and divine guidance in their search for employment in what was to become the worst recession in the U.S. since the Great Depression (1929-39).
Dark clouds began overshadowing just about all areas of the economy as companies, nonprofits, and government bodies started cutting jobs at the rate of nearly 600,000 per month during the first part of 2009.¹
These dramatic and sizable layoffs were carried out in response to a housing bubble that burst along with a crisis in the financial industry. The combination of events caused the economy to come to a grinding halt in the U.S. and globally. This was the context in which the pastor turned the congregation's attention to these parishioners in their hour of need.
A New Normal?
The most recent economic downturn actually began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009 according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. The committee, reporting its findings in September 2010, may have met technical standards for tracking recessions but the official announcement seems disconnected from the harsh realities still facing many households.
How do you convince 14 million people who make up the 9.1 percent unemployment rate (the highest since 1982) that things are improving?²
This single digit measurement, as bad as it is, does not fully account for the pain and suffering of individuals and families who not only lost jobs but homes as well. A better way to grasp the severity of the labor market is by adding in people who have given up looking for work within the past year, plus those who have been cut back from full-time employment to part-time. This moves the rate to 16.5 percent.3
Employment has always been an uneven proposition as rates tend to vary between states and regions. This time some of the figures appear extreme. For example, North Dakota's unemployment rate is 3.5 percent while in Nevada it is 13.4 percent. For those with a bachelor's degree or higher the unemployment rate is 4.3 percent.4 According to CNNMoney, "Economists used to say an unemployment rate around 5 percent was normal."
The unemployment picture for blacks is 16.7 percent and 11.3 percent for Hispanics. For whites it is 8 percent.5
Add up everything and an unprecedented 26 million Americans are now "underemployed."6
Age is also a factor. In the U.S. 17.1 percent of those 25 and younger are out of work. Across the European Union, youth unemployment averages 20.9 percent. In Spain, it is 46.2 percent.7
What about Canada? Its overall unemployment rate is 7.1 percent.8
What can the church do? Volunteers in some congregations and compassionate ministry centers are already providing counseling and training to job seekers. However, more help is needed as hiring becomes a long-term structural issue.
Finding a champion for this effort and forming a task force in your local church is a good way to get started. While this type of outreach begins with prayer it follows through with deeds, which are the ultimate form of Christian witness.
Over the past 40 years, individuals have come to us directly or been referred to us for help. Having been a recipient of care and action from others along the way, we do what we can, in the name of Jesus, to encourage and support those in this situation.
Here are a few key findings from nearly four decades of an informal "jobs ministry:"
For the job seeker:
- Never tell yourself "no." Don't assume the job you want is out of reach.
- Remember that part-time jobs and internships can lead to permanent positions. The goal is to get inside the organization.
- Let as many people as possible know you are in the market for a job.
For the helper:
- Never promise a job, only that you will assist in the process.
- Be careful vouching for someone you don't know.
How can you help?
Compassion comes in different forms and there are several ways to engage in this type of ministry:
- Prayer. God brings people with needs that may be met directly or by networking with others into our lives at just the right time. You could be the answer to someone's prayers.
- Coaching. Individuals often need help getting ready to look for work. This includes everything from where they should be focusing attention to preparing introductory letters and creating or updating résumés.
- Encouragement. Looking for work is work. People benefit from having support especially in periods of extended unemployment.
- Accountability. It's important for job seekers to be held accountable for the follow-up that's required to find employment.
- Search. Know where to look for job openings. Companies and other organizations that launch hiring campaigns generally place news releases in local papers and publications specializing in business. Links to these on-line articles can be sent via social media or E-mails directly to individuals or a central location (church office) for distribution to others.
- Experience. It helps having someone on the inside who knows how hiring decisions are made and who makes them. Some of the better jobs are never posted publicly. Those active or retired from business, education, health care, technology, and professional services have working knowledge that can make a difference in knowing who to contact and how. A personal introduction or referral is invaluable.
A Glimmer of Hope
Some good news does exist.
In a report entitled, "Job Openings and Labor Turnover," published by the U.S. Labor Department, there were 3.2 million job openings in the summer of 2011.
Although there are about four active job seekers for every current job opening, the survey shows that even in a slow growing economy, job opportunities exist for applicants with the right skills and education.
Employers say they are having trouble finding applicants who fit requirements for open positions. "That clearly speaks to a skills gap that exists," says Thom Ruhe of the Ewing Marion Kaufman Foundation. Getting the right people in the right place at the right time is becoming harder to do as the soft real estate market hampers the ability to relocate for work.
A Connectional Church
A recent study about job searching on the Internet shows that it cuts the average unemployment spells by 25 percent. A decade ago this approach was much less effective or counterproductive. An overlooked and highly effective part of the search process is using the Internet to contact family and friends.9
If the church is indeed a "family" or in a broader sense an international "community of faith," then perhaps there are ways in which connections and relationships around the world can be useful to individuals desiring meaningful employment as well as those looking to hire.
Nothing in our lives is insignificant to God. He cares about everything, including how we work and earn a living. For this reason any jobs initiative should keep the sacred in mind.
The Bible says, "Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people" Colossians 3:23 (NLT).
This verse is a reminder that those who knelt at the altar for prayer that Sunday were not just looking for work but are, like other Christians, responding to a higher calling.
Russ Bredholt Jr. is president of Bredholt & Company consulting firm in Winter Springs, Florida. www.strategist.com.
1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
3. U.S. Department of Labor
6. U.S. News & World Report, October 26, 2011
7. The Economist, October 22, 2011
8. Statistics Canada
9. The Wall Street Journal, September 29, 2011
Job Search Resources
- Personal. Monster.com, Indeed.com, and CareerBuilder.com are among the top web sites dedicated to helping people find jobs. Monster is reported to have at least 1 million job postings, 150 million resumes, and a little over 60 million job seekers per month.
- Network. So how does anyone stand out in a crowded field? As someone once said, "It's not who you know, it's who knows you." Think about separating yourself through a credible third-party referral. Who could speak, make a call, or write on your behalf? This is one way to get a better job. Consider dividing your time between networking (70 percent) and scanning job boards (30 percent).
- Visibility. According to its web site, LinkedIn.com operates the world's largest professional network on the Internet with more than 120 million members in over 200 countries and territories. Although designed primarily for executive and managerial personnel it has nearly 16 million students and recent college graduates as members.
- Alma Mater. Is there a way to tap into an alumni network of nearly 134,000 graduates among the 11 Nazarene colleges, universities, and theological schools? Are Nazarene alumni an underutilized source for job opportunities, career days, and internships? Students and graduates should check with the career center or alumni office at their respective institutions to see what help might be available. (Note: The total includes Ambrose University College in Canada, Nazarene Theological Seminary, and Nazarene Bible College).
- 250,000 to 300,000: Estimated number of jobs the U.S. economy needs to add monthly to begin to push down the unemployment rate over the longer term (U.S. News and World Report).
- Gratitude. Don't forget to say "thank you" for any help received or interviews given. A hand-written note is always appreciated.
Should You Start Your Own Business?
An option for some who have been laid off from their jobs may be to start a business or buy in to an existing one, if the funds exist to do so.
Starting a business is a daunting proposition in good times or bad. Small businesses face a variety of problems related to their size. A frequent cause of business closers is undercapitalization or having insufficient cash in reserves. This is often a result of poor planning rather than economic conditions according to government studies.
Nonetheless, small businesses and start-ups, are sources of new jobs. Companies with fewer than 500 employees created 64 percent of net new U.S. jobs from September 1992 through 2010.
Firm size - Net new jobs
1 to 9 employees - 13%
10 to 49 - 19%
50 to 99 - 10%
100 to 499 - 22%
500 to 999 - 7%
1,000 or more - 29%
Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics
If being self-employed is something you are considering, and only a very small percentage of workers would qualify for this option, here are some things to keep in mind based on interviews with those who have experience in these kinds of endeavors:
1. Think and pray about it. Weigh the pros and cons in order to make a wise decision.
2. Find a mentor or counselor. Talk with those who have gone through the process, successful and unsuccessful, and see what they learned that might apply to your situation. There are plenty of resources available to help with research, writing plans, and navigating government regulations. These include the Small Business Administration (www.sba.gov), Service Core of Retired Executives (www.score.org), and business incubators associated with colleges and universities (www.nbia.org).
3. People first. The person who starts the business is more important than the idea behind it. This order is often reversed on the speaking circuit but smart investors tend to look at the individual or group as much or more than the proposed product or service.
4. The best businesses start off with profits. Peter Drucker once said that all it takes to be in business is having one profitable customer. They are sources of "cheap cash" and you start out knowing the idea is something people are willing to pay for.
5. Avoid the E-Myth. Another problem for many small businesses is termed the "Entrepreneurial Myth" or E-Myth. The mythic assumption is that an expert in a given technical field will also be expert at running that kind of business. Additional business management skills are needed to keep a business running smoothly (www.e-myth.com).