Filling the gap

Last month, I had the honor of speaking as part of the Social Justice Speaker Series at Sacred Heart Parish in Newton. I delivered a rather pointed speech on the role of solidarity during these harsh economic times. After, one of the attendees suggested (affectionately) that if my columns in The Pilot were as passionate and pointed as my speech, he would be a more enthusiastic reader. While I cannot recall your name, friend from Sacred Heart, I was listening. I hope this better fits the bill.

The Crittenton Women’s Union came out with a report two weeks ago that featured some cringe-inducing statistics as its bookends. The first bookend was data on sustainable family incomes. It turns out that the sustainable income for a single parent in the commonwealth with two children is $61,618. That means that a single-parent family of three needs that much money to be financially independent. Know what the median family income in Boston is? $48,729.

The second bookend was job data. The report identified 11 “Hot Jobs,” in Massachusetts -- “careers that require two years or less of post-secondary education, pay a family-sustaining wage, and currently post high vacancy rates.” The jobs ranged from Computer Support Specialists to Correctional Officers to Registered Nurses and Dental Hygienists. (To see the full list, go to www.liveworkthrive.org/hotjobs.php.) That there are 11 such job types in the commonwealth is good news in a world where people earning wages between $12,500 and $24,500 per year are suffering 20 percent unemployment rates and those earning under $12,500 per year are suffering an unemployment rate (30 percent) higher than that seen during the Great Depression.

I appreciate the good news. On the other hand, the number of jobs in the commonwealth qualifying as “hot” shrank from 26 in 2007 to 11 this year. That is a greater than 50 percent reduction in three years. Further, a closer look at the list of 11 hot jobs quickly shows that, while they might not require a four-year college degree, most really do require at least some level of post-secondary training or education. There is a significant correlation between those falling in the income brackets with 20-30 percent unemployment and those without any post-secondary education or training. Put simply, the hot jobs are fewer, further between, and difficult to obtain for those who need jobs the most.

Why trot out another round of statistics showing how tough things are? There are a few reasons. First, because it is budget season for the state. It would be terrific to see policies in place that enhance the availability of hot jobs and support educational programs that channel people into them. This is the time of year to be thinking about how to create such opportunities.

Second, because there is a $13,000 gap between the median Boston income and what it takes for a single parent to reasonably support a small family. That suggests that we who are focused on social justice and solidarity cannot let up in our commitment to provide basic needs and stop-gap support to the working poor as they strive to get to that $62,000 job. It is difficult to condemn people for not having jobs that aren’t there. It is cruel to pull the rug out from under them at the same time.

Finally, I point out these statistics because this is historically a time of weak philanthropy. People have done their holiday and end-of-year giving, and the warm months are ahead of us. Attention turns to having fun, paying for vacations, and a general sense that the “bad times” are on hiatus until the weather gets cold again. That is just not true, and organizations like Catholic Charities struggle this time of year to meet need that isn’t dying down while interest in supporting the work is.

Sustaining a family takes a whole lot more than money, but that doesn’t change the fact that money is critical to sustenance. Families need it. So do those who are catching families when they fall.

Tiziana C. Dearing is president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.

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