My family knows the pain of joblessness firsthand


    Andy Schmookler is running for Congress in the 6th Congressional District of Virginia, challenging the incumbent Congressman, Bob Goodlatte.  He is an award-winning author, political commentator, and teacher has been a resident of Shenandoah County since 1992.  He is a graduate of Harvard University and holds a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley.  

    Some suppose that the fact that I’m running for Congress means that my family and I are part of some elite, living on Easy Street.  But in fact the economic hardships of this time have touched our family quite directly.  

    We’ve two sons who have been part of the whole cohort of young people struggling to find a place in America’s workforce.

    Some suppose that because I had the privilege to be educated at outstanding universities, and because I am a published author, I must have had an economically easy time of it.  Not at all:  I’ve spent my whole adult life doing what I thought God wanted me to do, and having a calling and making a living are not the same thing.  The only way my wife and I have survived is through frugal living and careful management of our resources.

    Each of my two sons, in their adolescent years, saw my example and told me, “I’m not going to be like you, Dad.  I’m going into a well-paying profession and make a bundle.”

    But as the years passed, somehow – like so many of us – they found themselves becoming more like their parents than they planned!  My older son found that the theater was his great love, and my younger one that his spirit longed to write great fiction.

    They grew up in an era where America seemed full of opportunities, so they followed their dreams.  Now has come this era of joblessness.

    My first-born, by now possessing an MFA in theater directing, pounded the pavement in Washington state where he lives.  Looking for any job, to make ends meet.  Waiting tables, Building things.  Whatever.  Months rolled by and, aside from a temporary gig here and there, nothing to show for it.

    For a parent, the distress of one’s child hurts even worse than one’s own.  We watched from afar, commiserated, helped, prayed.

    Recently, at last, good news has come.  He found a job-not full time, but one that combines two of his gifts:  teaching theater.

    For our youngest, the search has dragged on is another story.  (There is also a daughter, who earned a professional degree in psychology, and is on a secure footing.)

    A hard-working, responsible, highly intelligent fellow, he just graduated with honors from Harvard.  But after this summer, what’s next? It was his plan that he’d get a good position for a capable young man with a wide-ranging and versatile mind, and while he did that job he’d be using his spare time to develop himself as a writer, get published, build up a portfolio.

    It’s not as though he hasn’t waged a smart and comprehensive campaign to find something.  And it’s not as though he’s failed to impress people he’s met in his search.

    But in today’s America, opportunities for those with a liberal arts education have become scarce.  It is technical skills of one kind or another that provide entry into the workforce.

    Our young son’s story is but one version of the heart-breaking experience of perhaps millions of young people in America today.  A whole generation of our talented youth are ready and eager to contribute to the vitality and productivity and well-being of America, but today’s America has little use for them.

    A great society should not accept this. It is a crucial time of life when a young person reaches that transition point of stepping out of the role of student and dependent and becoming a worker standing on his/her own two feet.  This is when the sense of adulthood takes form.  It is a moment crucial to the solidification of identity, of work habits, of self-esteem.

    This is what our politicians should be attending to:  getting America back to work, filling the gap in demand through which so many American lives are falling.  

    Those who claim to be looking to our future with their fixation on cutting programs that help people should instead be protecting our future by creating jobs.  Especially for our youth, for whom wasted years now – studies show – leave life-long detrimental effects.

    Americans still benefit from the great work done by FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps.  That “Greatest Generation” would surely have been less great if their government had abandoned them in those difficult times.

    Our youth today deserve no less from the America of today.

    Postscript:  For our son, there now appears to be good news-a job, probably, to start after the new year.  But even if his drought is over, the pain in America remains widespread. Just today, at the barbers’ shop here in Shenandoah County, Virginia, where I live, I heard about dozens of people just laid off when the construction-related business that employed them had to shut its doors after decades of successful operation. The profits of big corporations may be setting records, but we need that famous kind of tide that lifts all boats.  

    To learn more about Andy, please go to

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