Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent
One of the tedious but necessary items we pay attention to on the news is the economic reports. No, we do not do so out of love for money, but because we desire to be good stewards with the resources with which God has entrusted us. But unfortunately, the SARS-COV-2 virus has had quite an impact on our economy. In addition, we are coming up on the third anniversary of the pandemic shutdowns. So, it is safe to say that things have yet to return to where they were before March of 2020.
Some industries, like the hospitality industry, have been decimated. For example, as of January 2022, the National Restaurant Association found that about 80,000 restaurants have closed because of COVID.1And those restauranteurs with an open business have difficulty staffing themselves and obtaining supplies. Here locally, I noted a combo KFC and Taco Bell franchise offering an $500 sign-on bonus in January 2021 to rectify the labor shortage. I have since read of other fast-food restaurants across the nation likewise offering large sign-on bonuses to perform what is considered non-skilled labor.
Now, I do not call any work in which one employs himself to be beneath anyone’s dignity, despite the technical designation of some jobs as being “non-skilled.” On the contrary, these are routine jobs suitable for teenagers seeking their first job experiences or seniors needing to supplement their retirement or stay active. But something has happened because of the pandemic. Whether large or small, one factor that keeps people away from gainful employment is the CARES Act, passed in March 2020. With this piece of legislation, one could argue that our federal government incentivized the acceptance of unemployment payments that, for many, exceeded the salaries earned at jobs from which COVID displaced them. In contrast, we might point out that those states doing better economically today wised up quickly and took away those incentives to stay out of work.
And now, we are hearing a strange new phrase on newscasts: “The Great Resignation.”2 Since there are more jobs than workers, people dissatisfied with their current occupations opt to quit. You have likely heard the real estate terms of “buyer’s market” and “seller’s market.” The former is a real estate market where buyers have the upper hand. As a result of various circumstances, there is more inventory than demand. As a result, the buyer has greater leverage to ask for price reductions from the homeowner. In a seller’s market, you have the opposite conditions. There is less inventory available. So, a buyer will pay more to purchase a house or land because other potential buyers are waiting in the wing. With the Great Resignation, the thought is that we are basically in a “worker’s market.” These job-shoppers know that employers need workers so desperately that they will do things like offering $1,000 to entice them into accepting the position they offer.
As anecdotal evidence for this “worker’s market,” I will offer a repeated observation from my lengthy hospital stay in 2021. There is no doubt that doctors and nurses have had it rough during the pandemic. Thus, we rightly call their actions heroic. But among the nurse technicians, I heard a few of the “lesser heroic” ones talking about how they loved the current climate because they could just quit abruptly and walk down to the next hospital to take advantage of the better incentive package they offered. Before someone thinks I am being too harsh, I will tell you more. These individuals said they could bounce around, even returning to the hospitals that they had left to game the system. Their “loyalty” was to the highest bidder.
What has this to do with Christians or theology? I will put the question to you this way. What kind of a society is born from our current environment with people choosing to stay at home and collect benefits for not working or taking advantage of desperate employers? Does this mindset end with work, or does it spill over into all of one’s life? Is there an immoral cause? Paul cautioned the Thessalonicans: “…if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.” (2 Thessalonians 3.10 NASB1995) In addition, idleness poses a danger. An idiom pairing well with 2 Thessalonians 3.11 is “idle hands is the devil’s workshop.” Paul said the nonworkers within the Thessalonican church made themselves busybodies, living undisciplined lives. Ouch.
Remembering one’s actual Employer resolves a part of this problem. Paul reminds us:
“Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” (Colossians 3.22-24 NASB1995)
Though not “slaves” in the same sense as those recipients in the first century (most people living in the Roman Empire were slaves to someone), we see how we are fángnú (Chinese for “mortgage slaves”) today. God expects us to be industrious. Even the inaugural pair placed in paradise had to “cultivate and keep” their garden home (Genesis 2.15). A nation where people work doesn’t have time to riot, loot, play keyboard warriors, “cancel” others, or push agendas on other people’s children. We are citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom first and foremost but let us not participate in those shortcomings here that create a land where you get paid a sign-on bonus to flip burgers.
1 Ruberg, Emma. “Covid Created Difficulties for Restaurants, but Supply Chain and Labor Issues Worsened Them.” Michigan Radio, Michigan Radio, 26 Jan. 2022, www.michiganradio.org/economy/2022-01-26/covid-created-difficulties-for-restaurants-but-supply-chain-and-labor-issues-worsened-them.
2 Pickert, Reade. “Great Resignation Increased in Eight U.S. States in December.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 17 Feb. 2022, 11:08, www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-02-17/great-resignation-worsened-in-eight-u-s-states-in-december.
Antoni, E.J. “Paid Not to Work: How Supplemental Unemployment Insurance Benefits Decreased Employment from 2020 to 2021.” Texas Public Policy Foundation, Texas Public Policy Foundation, 9 Feb. 2022, www.texaspolicy.com/paid-not-to-work-how-supplemental-unemployment-insurance-benefits-decreased-employment-from-2020-to-2021/. [Click the link at the bottom of the page to read the .pdf file.]
By the way, this is the picture I took from January of 2021.