Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Employment Reflections

Christmas day seems like an appropriate time to reflect on humanity through the ages, including (after all, this is an employment law blog) employment. The Christmas story is actually filled with various jobs. There's an innkeeper providing his manger to a very famous (though not at the time) carpenter named Joseph. Shepherds watching over their flocks and a visit from three kings... even then, some jobs paid better than others!

I suspect most of us don't know any shepherds, or kings, though certainly both still exist. One of my Christmas gifts this year was a biography of Sam Adams by Ira Stoll. In Samuel Adams - A Life, Stoll states that Adams graduated from Harvard in a class of only twenty-four. More remarkable than that, seven of his classmates went on to become ministers! I bet you'll have trouble finding a Harvard class of almost 30% ministers these days.

Sadly, many people of Adams' time and into the 19th century were "employed" as slaves. I generally think of employment as a voluntary exchange of work for compensation. Thankfully, slavery has been abolished and is no longer a legally recognized job.

I'm also reminded of a recent conversation I had with my mother and her sisters. They were reflecting on people with whom they went to school growing up. They discussed the limited job options for women of the time. The expectation was that women who worked were either school teachers or nurses. Today, of course, all occupations are realistic for women (though equality issues/debates continue).

Today, in the United States in particular, we live in a time of greater employment options for a greater variety of people than ever before. While we have made great strides, including the abolition of slavery and increased opportunity for women in the workforce (not to mention other classes of people) it is not all great news this Christmas. The unemployment rate lingers around 10%, and millions are still in search of work. FoxNews reports that twenty-five states have run out of unemployment insurance money and "the jobless are facing potentially reduced benefits."

So this Christmas, it's the perfect time to reflect on how far we've come and the opportunities of our age, while remembering those still struggling to find their own opportunity.