Guest contributor Ruth Garvey-Williams shares a story from Ireland about how unemployment is much more than being out of work...
Take a look at the statistics and you'll know that Ireland is in trouble. A national rate of 14% unemployment seems bad enough. But in certain parts of the country this figure is doubled!
One in three people in the North East corner of County Donegal where I live are out of work while the figure is even higher for those who are under 35. The 25-to-35 age group has been particularly hard hit. Starting work at the height of the Celtic Tiger boom, many rushed to get their feet on the property ladder, taking out 90 - 100% mortgages to meet the cost of inflated house prices.
After the crash, these young people found themselves out of work, facing possible repossession of their new homes and trapped in negative equity.
A few months ago, I went to do the weekly shop in Lidl - nowadays everyone shops at the cut-price German chain. Pushing my trolley around the store I bumped into a couple we know and gave the typical Irish greeting, "How are you doing?" Margaret's eyes filled with tears and she could hardly speak. A few days before, her daughter Elaine had emigrated, taking with her their grandchild Roisin.
After years out of work with study grants withdrawn and massive negative equity on her house, Elaine had decided to cut her losses and start a new life. It was a heart-wrenching decision to leave her family and friends. Now her parents were coping with the crushing grief of loss and loneliness.
"Tony will go to visit in a few months but I won't be able to," Margaret explained. "I couldn't face saying goodbye all over again."
In the last three years, over 300,000 Irish residents (mainly young people) have emigrated. The heartbreak of thousands of parents and grandparents just like Tony and Margaret is one of the hidden, relational costs of unemployment. These never appear in the government's calculations, yet they loom large in a biblical analysis of public policy.