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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 4/1/11

When Bad Things Happen to Good Americans

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In 1981, in response to the death of his son, Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote the classic  "When Bad Things Happen to Good People".  In recent days there's been such bad news about jobs and unemployment that Rabbi Kushner should consider writing a sequel: "When Bad Things Happen to Good Americans."


23 million US citizens are not fully employed while corporations enjoy record profits. The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers show US unemployment at 8.9 percent with another 5.4 percent underemployed and .7 percent "discouraged" -- not looking for work for various reasons -- for a combined rate of 15 percent.  Of these unemployed, at least 1.4 million are "99ers," individuals who have exhausted their unemployment benefits after unsuccessfully seeking work for 99 weeks.  Oh vey!


Most American believe in God, as 83 percent of Americans identify either Christian (78.4 percent) or some other religion (4.7 percent).  Rabbi Kushner asks: if there is a loving God, why do bad things happen?  Why do we lose our jobs even though we work hard?  After considering the usual explanations -- God makes mistakes, suffering builds character, and so forth -- the Rabbi concludes, "Maybe God does not cause our suffering. Maybe it happens for some reason other than the will of God."


No doubt America's millions of unemployed ask themselves daily why their bad thing happened.  Reading their stories one realizes that these were good employees who were terminated because their corporation chose to increase its profitability. 


The US economy is slowly improving but jobs are not being added at a rapid pace.  Many economists predict < high unemployment is likely to continue.  Meanwhile, US Corporations are enjoying record profits.


Rabbi Kushner observes, "In the final analysis, the questions of why bad things happen to good people transmutes itself into some very different questions, no longer asking why something happened, but asking how we will respond, what we intend to do now that it happened."  What do Americans intend to do about our high unemployment and the 23 million citizens that are suffering?


Being a religious people, Americans believe the United States is the number one nation on the planet and that God favors us.   We don't expect to have chronic problems like high unemployment -- or several million folks who have exhausted their unemployment benefits.  When things go terribly wrong, Americans scramble for answers and we often resort to political blames games: it's the fault of Democrats/Republican/Liberals/Conservatives.  Chronic unemployment has become a political "hot potato" tossed back and forth between Democrats and Republicans.


Rabbi Kushner asks what do we intend to do now that the bad thing -- chronic unemployment -- has happened?  What action will you and I take?


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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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