History and Full Employment
By Patrick Winn
History is made. Recent data show there are 6.6 million job openings in the United States. Thus, the number of unemployed effectively equals the number of available jobs. But more than one-third of small businesses have openings and 22 percent of them say it’s tough to find qualified workers. And because this country’s birth rate is declining, older, retired Americans will soon outnumber the employed, working generation. Our Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program sees the same trend of fewer available workers as additional facilities continue to be built for post-retirement age groups.
Catholic Charities has two significant programs working to place individuals into the ranks of the employed. On a diocesan-wide scale, our Refugee Resettlement program identifies employment opportunities and housing for persecution-surviving newcomers to America. 
Over the last six years, our program has regularly placed more than 95 percent of refugee adults into secure, full-time employment in food packaging and service, hotel maintenance, manufacturing, social services, transportation, education and sundry other occupations within six months of arrival. Despite recent federal program disruptions, this fiscal year we have placed 100 percent into gainful employment. 
Since starting Project H.I.R.E. at St. Elizabeth Catholic Community Center 18 months ago, 93 individuals have secured mostly full-time positions, with pay above minimum wage and benefits such as health and life insurance. Many have come off public assistance programs, have non-violent criminal histories or non-traditional employment experiences. 
In these and other struggles we help them confront the economic realities facing today’s unemployed in an uncertain world. Significantly, in both programs we have employers regularly contacting us to fill openings. 
These efforts are needed and we plan to expand them. Despite mildly optimistic reports from some sources, one recent United Way study found the basic cost of living for a family of four exceeds the income of two-income households. This is consistent with the Social Security Administration’s report that in 2016, 55 percent of employees earned less than $34,000, and 43 percent were below $25,000.
The Wall Street Journal reports that states are not ready for the next recession, with less revenue available to meet the needs of the coming unemployed. Recessions breed layoffs and reductions in force. Bankruptcies and downsizing mean fewer available jobs or safety nets. 
Our operating urgency is to get people into jobs, productive jobs, with cross training available to prosper today and survive the next economic correction. Whether or not an employer is unionized, most employees expect, and most employers respect, seniority when downsizing operations. 
We also want to ready those outside a “last-in-first-out system,” with know-how and transferable skills to stay employed and on their way to the self-sufficiency that we espouse in our mission statement. 
Experience says that gainful employment reinforces independence and avoids the disruption of unemployment. Our goals include developing the self-esteem that comes with providing for the benefit and support of family. We intend to celebrate the many good examples available to follow and embrace the many successes yet to come.