Editor's note: Fourth in a series about helping the middle class deal with the struggles of today's economy.

The series

Everything costs more, but we're not making more money. The middle class is said to be suffering its worst decade in modern history. For the next two months, the presidential candidates will contend that they hold the middle class' best interests at heart. The Post and Courier is detailing the struggles many of us face, and offering you solutions for finding a job, getting out of debt, paying the bills, clothing the family and putting food on the dinner table. Go to postandcourier.com/stuck to read more stories in the series.

For those who see work as a life's calling, there comes a deep and unrelenting darkness in the wandering quest for jobs, in the isolation from peers, in the uselessness that fills what once was a productive work day.

Job loss, pay cuts and demotions don't just mean shopping thrift and cutting cable. For many folks, work represents far more than financial security. It's a passion, an identity, a source of meaning in the world.

Work is value.

But what if there is no work?

Few things can test a person's self-worth and faith like the darkness of a purposeless work day. With the Charleston region's unemployment rate hovering near 8 percent, many of our unemployed or underemployed neighbors are grappling with perhaps life's greatest question: What is my value to the world?

And for people of faith, unemployment too often causes shame and fear — namely fear that they have let down God or that God's will is going undone in their lives' work.

Or, perhaps worse, fear that their dire job situations are God's will.

INSIDE: The Post and Courier details the struggles local folks face when job loss and underemployment transcend the wallet to burrow down deep into what defines us as productive, meaningful people. A12-13