For the past two weeks, my wife and I have been traveling by car through America’s heartland. We drove north from Austin to Dallas, then turned northeast through Arkansas, western Tennessee, and Kentucky. The terrain was verdant rolling farmland separated by a few metropolitan cities. Spring rains created lush grasslands and abundant trees sprouted new leaves after a weary winter. Farm fields were newly plowed, and a few midwestern crops were just starting to sprout.
As we progressed towards northwest New York, we noticed less leaves on the trees and the outside temperature dipped closer to freezing. Upon hitting the Great Lakes, spring appeared to have just begun with colorful spring bulbs in full bloom. After 1,500 miles of northeastward driving, it was obvious that we were not in Texas any longer.
We stayed in an isolated log cabin home beside Lake Ontario, about 20 minutes from my daughter’s home, which became a raucous retreat for family gatherings. The pandemic and winter weather kept their family homebound, and our cabin offered a new place to explore without the threat of Covid. Although the weather did not always cooperate, we were still able to cook s’mores on an outdoor fire and ventured to Niagara Falls on a rare sunny day.
After 10 days, we loaded the car, sadly said goodbye, and drove southwest to Missouri to see my in-laws. Along the way, we started to notice that many interstate fast-food restaurants were closed except for drive-thru service. We initially reasoned that local governments still imposed indoor Covid restrictions. After some research, we were surprised to learn that businesses were struggling to rehire employees. We spotted employment billboards for truck drivers, store staff, restaurant workers, and other hourly wage jobs. The US Department of Labor estimated unemployment at 6% (March 2021), but also stated that there are 7.4 million unfilled positions. How can both be true?
I am not an economist, but read many recent articles about this phenomenon where:
- the federal government’s $300-a-week unemployment bonus created a disincentive to work for workers earning under $16 per hour
- workers have shifted to non-service work and don’t want to return
- foreign seasonal labor was eliminated during the pandemic
When a financial crisis occurs and people are out of work, our democratically elected representatives are pressured by their electorate to find solutions. The needs were real: long car lines waiting for food supplies, hospitals at capacity with the critically sick, families working from home while simultaneously caring for their children, schools needing additional resources to provide a safe environment for students, and many businesses struggling to remain solvent while paying additional expenses to provide safe working conditions.
But how does a government know exactly who needs aid, how much aid to dole out, and for how long? Truthfully, the government really doesn’t fully know due to the complexities of our massive economy. The US has 330 million citizens and local, state, and federal government employees do not have the resources nor the time to evaluate each family’s financial needs. Instead, governments quickly establish macro laws and distribute massive aid, whether needed or not. This blanket assistance does help families and businesses that are desperate. Funds were also sent to those who were unaffected or benefited from the economic downturn. Depending on the political slant of the news, the aid is either praised as needed relief or condemned as wasteful and harmful to the economy. It is easy to make broad assertions for a complex situation. Unbiased and transparent facts are sorely needed in our divided nation.
What does Christianity have to do with government economic policy when our constitution separates religion and government? Our faith is founded upon loving God and our neighbors. Our American democracy is founded upon the same principles: freedom to worship God and a government of, by, and for the people. During a crisis, Christians are called to help their neighbors in need and that includes demanding that our government respond to the desperate needs of Americans.
But how should Christians respond when they receive government aid that is not needed? Isn’t this just a windfall blessing to spend or save as we please? My faith leads me back to a sharing community as taught by Christ; we who are abundant should be generous. For example, we can give to:
- nonprofits who specialize in assisting the homeless, hungry, and sick
- struggling students, dual-working parents, and shut-in elderly that we know
- hospital foundations that research disease cures
- food banks and outreach centers
Christians don’t need the government to solve every problem during a crisis. Those that have abundance can share with Christ-filled hearts. “This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:17 NIV)
But what about Americans not returning to work post-pandemic? This will be covered in Part II.