We don’t need to tell you that, in the last six months, 50 million people have lost their jobs, with businesses shuttered from coast to coast and, as of this writing, only some sort of reopening. The economic effects have been dramatic. And nearly everyone is asking, What should we do? What can we do?
We have a few ideas. Of course, anytime you talk about economic plans, you inevitably slip into the up-and-down world of politics. Dicey, we know. But each of these ideas could be carried out in principle or spirit by individuals, local churches, or government. So regardless of your views of political economy, these are ideas we hope will spark more ideas — and birth actions.
Invest in low-opportunity communities.
It’s almost axiomatic that, in the United States, we increasingly see what columnist David Brooks calls an opportunity gap, largely along racial lines. And as Brooks notes, “it takes a whole community to raise a child, to support an adult, to have a bustling local economy and a vibrant civic life. The neighborhood is the unit of change.” But these units of change need the resources both to initiate and to sustain change. Implementation could take several forms, with potential solutions ranging from federal initiatives or cities’ repurposing of shuttered businesses to community work spaces via private grants, and even faith-based investing models. The key is life-changing amounts of money invested over the long haul. The needs are massive — and so should be the investment.
Ignite entrepreneurial activity.
It goes without saying that business is good for the economy. But what kind? When it comes to creating jobs, the most important thing to look at is actually a business’s age. Research in The Review of Economics and Statistics shows that new businesses account for nearly all net new job creation in the United States and almost 20 percent of gross job creation. Get this: In the last 30 years, companies less than one year old have created an average of 1.5 million jobs per year. And it might surprise you that this dynamic even plays out in financial crises. During the Great Recession, small companies — fewer than five years old and with fewer than 20 employees, according to the Center for Economic Studies — remained a positive source of net employment growth (8.6 percent). More established companies, as you’d expect, cut more jobs than they created. The point? Whatever your part to play — Start. New. Companies. And to double down on turning the COVID-19-crushed economy, investors could prioritize ventures that provide in-home services for at-risk individuals — both to stimulate jobs and to keep those at-risk healthy.
Build a modern-day gleaning movement.
Remember the gleaning laws given in the book of Leviticus, the ones we see modeled later in the book of Ruth? Farmers in ancient Israel were supposed to leave grain along the edges of their fields so that those willing to come behind the farmer and gather the grain would have the opportunity to do so. Gleaning provided work and sustenance. What might a modern-day gleaning movement look like? Perhaps instead of doing household tasks yourself, you could hire workers to clean the house, mow the yard, or paint rooms. Churches could see their buildings as economic assets, offering affordable office space for aspiring entrepreneurs, hiring those in need of work for building maintenance and projects. Some churches have identified kids leaving the foster care system and employed them in church cafes. City governments might find ways to expand programmatic and employment opportunities for those on the margins. And perhaps businesses might consider expanding opportunities by revising policies concerning ex-felons and by expanding apprentice-type programs. Whatever the method, what if we could begin to envision generosity not only as sacrificial giving but also as sacrificial hiring?
Reimagine ways to provide short-term cash.
Around 12 million people a year take out payday loans, and in a year like 2020, the number of people who face legitimate needs for short term cash will only increase. Predatory types of loans, however, only exacerbate debt cycles and will multiply economic hardship. Solutions to this problem will be new lending models that can afford more risk and thus provide reasonable rates. A viable solution may be the rise of daily pay apps. In another lane, a church could publish a bank of tasks available to complete and receive compensation on the same day. This is one of the trickier issues, and it requires reimagining new ways and systems to provide people with short-term cash needs.
Make work more family-friendly.
Evident at the onset of our national lockdown was the acute pressure applied to working families, both single-parent and duel-working-parent homes. The result for millions of parents was a restricted ability to work and care for their families. Solutions to this include programs, public or private, for expanding paid leave and additional solutions for childcare. For example, in exploring a broad policy solution for paid leave, an American Enterprise Institute-Brookings group proposes a budget-neutral plan that includes, among other elements, public-paid parental leave for mothers and fathers, a 70 percent replacement rate up to a cap for a limited number of weeks, and job protection. At the level of individual employers, expanding flex hours would have an immediate effect on the need for paid leave. And employers and community organizations — like churches — alike should seek out ways to provide low or no-cost childcare to people who need it in order to work.