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We've all seen the signs on highways and other construction sites around the country: "Men at Work." Well, in case you hadn't noticed, those signs are increasingly out of date--and not because they're politically incorrect. The fact is, more and more men not only aren't at work, they're not even trying to find a job.
Princeton economist Alan Krueger counts 7 million men in America between the prime working ages of 25 and 54 completely out of the workforce, supported by someone else. That's 11.4 percent of men in that demographic, about triple the share of men out of the workforce in the 1950s.
Besides the loss of a paycheck, these 7 million men report all kinds of problems: 40 percent say they experience pain that keeps them from working.
A third say they cannot climb stairs or have some other disability. And get this--44 percent say they take daily painkillers--and two-thirds of those say they're on prescription meds. Further, Krueger says, that they "experience notably low levels of emotional well-being throughout their days and ... they derive relatively little meaning from their daily activities."
Demographer Nicholas Eberstadt says in his new book "Men Without Work," "We might say those many millions of men without work constitute a sort of invisible army, ghost soldiers lost in an overlooked, modern-day depression."
How should we respond? Well, for those who are able and for whatever reason choose not to work, a biblical worldview teaches us that work is good. God gave men and women work to do in the Garden before the Fall.
Work allows us to take care of God's creation and bring glory to Him as His stewards. Work is not optional for those able to do work, and that's most of us. There are to be no shirkers in the Lord's kingdom. As Paul said, "If a man will not work, neither let him eat."
As for those who want to work but cannot find a job, this demographic disaster for men is a challenge to the Church to rediscover its calling to help its neighbors--both Christian and non-Christian--find work that brings dignity and pays the bills.
The great evangelist John Wesley, for example, not only preached the Gospel in the fields and among common working people, such as coal miners, he urged the new believers to take their work seriously and support all kinds of social reforms through it. Remember his famous maxim to "gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can"? It's still true!
Today, there are limitless ways that our churches can bless the neighbors in our communities who struggle with unemployment and its effects.
One, in eastern Wisconsin, is called Project Joseph, a joint effort of U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, his staff, and an inner-city congregation called the Greater Praise Church of God in Christ. Near a Milwaukee neighborhood in which 62 percent of men have been incarcerated at some point, Project Joseph teaches job interviewing and punctuality skills to prospective employees.
According to World magazine, the first class had 14 vetted applicants. Kohler, the first participating company, offered all 14 a job. Thirteen accepted offers and began work at Kohler last October. The program is now in its 10th session. Pastor Jerome Smith says, "God has used the Joseph Project to bring together blacks, whites, Hispanics, even Indians."
There are many other examples of churches working with business and government to get people back to work. Find out what's being done in your community--and then find a way to support it.
While there may not be as many "Men at Work" signs out there as there used to be, the signs of God's kingdom at work are visible for anyone willing to look.