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A Public Service Message from the American Income Life Insurance Co.Waco, TexasBernard Rapoport, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer The Tragedy of Unemployment Recent headlines announced the planned closing of the Levi Strauss plant, meaning that some 350 Wacoans would be without jobs. The news brought to mind the quotation from Jose Ortega y Gasset: “An unemployed existence is a worse negation of life than death itself. Because to live means to have something definite to do a mission to fulfill and in the measure in which we avoid setting our life to something, we make it empty. . . . Human life, by its very nature, has to be dedicated to something.” Except for death or those events relating to personal losses, certainly unemployment being without work is one of the most serious conditions affecting a human life. I wonder what happens now to those 300 or 350 Wacoans who will be without jobs. We are a small community of some 100,000-plus people. Given that the average family has about four members, over 1 percent of our population one out of every 100 Wacoans will be affected by this plant closing. The skeptical and the cynical can say, “Well, there is unemployment compensation.” That is true. It doesn’t go on forever, though, and it requires a serious reduction in a family’s standard of living. I presume that 99.9 percent of these people want to work really want to work. They live in the society that has a commitment to the work ethic. During this period of unemployment, certainly they ponder the question of whether this is a hypocritical society that gives virtue to work and yet fails to provide the opportunity for it. Oh yes, I have heard that if anyone wants a job, he or she can find it. That is a rather smug and complacent attitude. Nearing seven decades, I can say that I have never been out of work, but I have been fortunate in having the training that gave me the flexibility not only to be able to choose the kind of work that I wanted to do but to adapt when the economy was in recession. Most people with the imperious view that “anyone can find a job” have had this advantage. Some people have been trained to do only one thing, and in this high-tech society in which we live, they are not able to make the adjustments simply because they have not been trained. So many of these people, too, are not aware that they have more abilities than they thought. They need exposure to different kinds of work. Unemployment! None of us has to be reminded that it breeds crime, contributes to suicide and probably is the leading cause of divorce and abuse within a family. There is a reason for it, simply this: The unemployed person feels a sense of unworthiness in a society that worships the work ethic. Well, we want to get government off our backs, and the best way to do that is to put people to work. The unemployed obviously do not pay taxes and they are a financial drain on the economy. Perhaps an idea whose time has come is one where we would abolish unemployment compensation, which costs billions of dollars, and make government the employer of last resort. Just drive through Waco and view the condition of the streets, the new bridges that are needed, the lack of aestheticism in the physical aspects of our community. There is so much work that needs to be done and yet we have people on the unemployment rolls who would like to work and would feel better about themselves if they could. The poignancy of this condition was illustrated by an article in the July 29 Tribune-Herald under the headline, “ON THE JOB, OFF WELFARE, AND LIKING IT.” The subject of the article, a wonderful black woman, said, “It was frustrating to hear people talk about welfare mothers as if they wanted to live off of government forever, which is not the case.” To sum it all up, the thrust of this message is a simple one, as revealed in Studs Terkel’s interview with a young black girl sitting on a stoop. When asked, “What do you think of life?” she retorted, “I love life. I wish some of it would come my way.” Isn’t that what the American way of life is really all about? This essay originally appeared in the Aug. 8, 1985, Waco Tribune-Herald. Reprinted with permission. Alid American Income Life Insurance Company EXECUTIVE OFFICES: P.O. BOX 208, WACO, TEXAS 78703, 817.772-3050 BERNARD RAPOPORT Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17