The Unemployed, Volunteerism, and Freedom

By: David Bozeman
The Great Recession has produced one thin silver lining for some of the   nation’s unemployed:  the opportunity to serve others.  Along with   polishing your resume and networking, most job search experts advise volunteer   work as a meaningful way to fill the time.  Aside from such practical   advantages as maintaining a routine and possibly accessing unpublished job   opportunities, volunteer work stirs the humanity of both the giver and the   beneficiary.
Losing a job is an intensely personal, life-shattering event, a   dehumanizing,daze-inducing process that numbs the individual spirit.  One   usually draws either maudlin pity or stern condescension. Of course,   navigating the bureaucracy of filing for unemployment and scouring the   job market does little for one’s self-image.  Volunteer work, by   contrast, elicits praise and appreciation that some workers haven’t felt   in years.
In a frenzied, numbers-obsessed age, we tend to forget that every   statistical unit tells a story.  Volunteer work gives a face to America’s   needy.  Furthermore, the example of volunteerism illuminates one of the   key linchpins of a free and prosperous society.  In recent years,   legislators in Georgia and Florida (and probably elsewhere) have proposed   mandatory volunteer work for those receiving unemployment benefits.    While the idea may bear consideration, the mandatory part dilutes the fact   that the key component of volunteer work is that it is voluntary.
The last few years have seen less discussion of the topic (perhaps   because we’re in a ‘recovery?’), but The New York Times reported in   2009 that the Great Recession “created a flood of volunteers from the ranks of   the unemployed.” The numbers vary, with white-collar unemployed typically able   to give more time and expertise.  Not to say that the blue-collar   unemployed are all lounging on recliners watching Jerry Springer   reruns. Even extra time spent with the children or helping out at   the school — it bears repeating – rewards both the volunteer and the   beneficiary.  The giving spirit is a contribution unto itself.
As for drawbacks, some complain that institutions such as hospitals, who   rely heavily on volunteers, actually take advantage of that goodwill, refusing   to hire even when it is financially feasible.  Could some wealthy   Americans be depending on a whole class of free labor to fatten their   wallets?  Conceivably.  Avoiding that simply demands the diligence   and judgment of the volunteer.  Most charity work, from cleaning a   local church to helping with the annual Girl Scout cookie drive, pays no money   for one simple reason. . .
Whatever the details, the fact remains that the volunteer spirit   illuminates what is good with America.  When the chips are down, we rely   on ourselves and, if necessary, the freely given help of our fellow   citizens.  Ultimately, our neighbors are not our enemies and we do not   obsess over politically accentuated differences and class distinctions.    Our only enemies are any belief system that stifles   individuality and any bureaucracy that would maintain power by pitting   American against American.
No one should find extended ease or comfort in unemployment, but if the   noblest part of the human spirit can take flight and spread its wings, then   all the better.  Besides, unemployment is usually temporary, sometimes   extended — seldom is it terminal.  It is when times are bad that   character is finally revealed and America’s founding strengths renew   themselves.  Each of us has the power to prove by example our finest   ideals of voluntary public service and charity. Indeed, our actions speak   volumes. In the words of President Calvin Coolidge, “Governments do not   make ideals, but ideals make governments.” Let us hope.

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