Tools & Resources

Clergy Toolkit - Sermon Illustrations and Helps

February 24, 2012

This page contains stories and tesimonies that may be helpful in teaching and preaching on themes related to economic and racial justice.

Effects of Long-term Unemployment

How do the long-term unemployed get by? How do they cope? NPR and the Kaiser Family Foundation polled people unemployed or with insufficient work for more than one year. Here’s what they found:

  • Close to half of those surveyed say they've had trouble paying for housing and food.
  • More than half have borrowed money from friends or family to get by.
  • A third say they've changed their living situation to save money, including moving in with relatives and friends.
  • One in 10 say they've lost their home due to foreclosure.

Those are the statistics. But Lin Daniel can tell you what it feels like. She worked building websites for small businesses before losing her job. Now she lives with a friend in Albany, NY.

      “I'm not homeless and I probably never will be, but everything that I had and everything I worked for is gone. I played the game the way I was, quote, "supposed to," you know, house, marriage. I had the cat instead of the dog. But, you know, and nothing. It's all gone.”

      And she finds it hard to be optimistic that she’ll find another job.

“If I put my hopes in finding another job, I'd just break my heart. To be honest, I've given up.”

Adapted from NPR, “The State of the Long-term Unemployed,” December 12, 2011,



Moving to Find ‘the American Dream’ Not as Possible These Days

In Palm Coast, FL, civil engineer James Tiffany took a job in 2006 and bought a home. Palm Coast was in the middle of a boom, one of the nation's fastest-growing cities.

But boom turned to bust. Tiffany was thrown out of work, and the city became known less for its explosive growth than its alarming level of joblessness. The area's unemployment rate is 15.4 percent, the nation's 11th highest, and many of the jobs that once powered the local economy are probably gone for good.

That has left a large share of the area's jobless much like Tiffany: with skills that are no longer in demand here but saddled with mortgages that prevent them from leaving. "I'm sort of in a pickle," Tiffany said with an amused smile before resuming his job search at a computer terminal in the city's One-Stop Employment Center. "I'm stuck in a home that I can't get out of if I wanted to."

James Tiffany is another casualty of the prolonged economic crisis: the ability to pack up the family and move elsewhere to secure a better job and follow the American Dream. The labor migration rate is down sharply since the start of the economic downturn in 2007 and is just half the rate of a decade earlier. Overall, interstate migration has reached its lowest point since World War II.

From the Washington Post, “Few in U.S. move for new jobs, fueling fear the economy might get stuck, too,” July 30, 2010



Basic Living Costs Continue to Rise

Trying to save money? Don’t drive anywhere. Don’t get hungry. Don’t get sick.

In Norridge, IL, outside Chicago, 65-year-old Elden Keeler works as a part-time music teacher and musician to supplement his Social Security and pension income. Higher prices for food, gas and health care have made it difficult for him.

“I need to spend on gas to drive the couple of days that I work and to visit my mother in a nursing home, so I’m cutting back in other areas,” he said. “I’ve cut back on clothing, entertainment, things like that.”

Keeler, 65, shares his home with his 39-year-old son, Christopher, who has been living with him for more than a year since the restaurant he worked at as a cook shut down. The younger Keeler worries about not being able to help his dad with expenses.

Chicago area employees paid about 12 percent more in health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs in 2011 than a year earlier and 41.6 percent more than they did in 2007. Grocery food price increases averaged 4.3 percent last year. Gasoline prices spiked an average 27 percent in 2011 from 2010.

Even taking a shower costs more. The first of four water and sewer rate increases by the city of Chicago for Lake Michigan water users began this year with a 25 percent hike. Fifteen percent increases are on tap for the next three years.

From the Chicago Sun-Times, “Prices jump in food, transportation, other everyday costs,” January 29, 2012



Cuts to Adult Education Can Perpetuate, Not Prevent, Cycles of Poverty in Families

In 39 years as teacher, Planaria Price has never seen anything like this: The Los Angeles Unified School District may eliminate the district’s entire adult education division. 

“The program's already been cut in half,” Price said. “Now we find out that we are being ‘zeroed out’ of the budget.”

According to a proposal presented to the school board in December 2011, there is no money budgeted for the $120-million Division of Adult and Career Education in 2012-2013. Thirty adult schools offer 350,000 students a chance to earn high school diplomas or learn English and career skills. Down the line, that “zero” might turn out to be an accounting gimmick or a political ploy. But for now, it has stoked the fears of adult students and their teachers and spotlighted how vulnerable they are.

Superintendent John Deasy said the program isn't being singled out. “There are so many things that are going to be zeroed out of the budget, this is just the tip of the iceberg.” He ticked off a list of likely cuts: preschool programs, elementary art, summer school and thousands of administrators, teachers, nurses, custodians, gardeners and cafeteria workers.

“We're talking about $540 million worth of reductions,” he said. “Every single one is important, and none of them should have to be made.”

Planaria Price knows what will happen with her adult education students.

“The children of my students are wonderful students. That may have to do with them seeing that their parents care so much about education. What kind of bleak future are we leaving to them without the role models of adults who are striving to do better in their lives?”

From the Los Angeles Times, “Adult education on L.A. Unified’s chopping block,” January 28, 2012