The January employment report was a huge bullish surprise. During the longest government shutdown in history, total payrolls jumped by 304,000 —more than 130,000 above pre-report estimates and the highest in 11 months. Private payrolls increased by 296,000—about 120,000 above forecasts and the highest in nearly a year. Employment was revised downward a net of 70,000 for the last two months.
Average hourly earnings only increased 0.1 percent for the month but remained at 3.2 percent for the past 12 months. Manufacturing payrolls increased another 13,000. The participation rate increased to 63.2 percent from 63.1 percent. Work hours remained constant at 34.5 hours per week. The unemployment rate increased from 3.9 percent to 4.0 percent but was likely confounded by government workers who were not getting paid.
The report was almost uniformly good. The report documented a very strong labor market and increasing wages. But the more modest wage hikes of January are unlikely to raise the Fed's inflationary concerns that could lead to another round of higher interest rates.
Economic analysis does not do justice to the changes that a tight labor market is making in the lives of individuals. More than 300,000 people in January, and more than 4 million people during the last two years, now have jobs. People with jobs have a higher standard of living. They consume more, save more and give more. The employed are more confident, hopeful about the future, less stressed and more assured. The employed can afford more preventive health care and education. Marital and family discord, when caused by financial stress, are eased with jobs.
Today's church has many believers who are suffering from significant levels of financial stress. Some of these believers need a job. Others need a better job. Many suffer from poor financial planning and management. Others are financially strained, often to the breaking point, due to unforeseen events or circumstances. Regardless of the source, severe financial stress can keep the individual, the family and the church from achieving all they were purposed to do.
Financial stress can destroy hope and hope deferred makes the heart sick. The last thing the church needs is a bunch of congregants with a lack of hope in this life. Sometimes churches have more compassion for the poor down the street, than lifting up the poor within the church. Could it be a lack of compassion, or even unrighteousness judgment, for other members of the body? We should suffer with any part of our body that is suffering.
"Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life" (Prov. 13:12).
"If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts rejoice with it" (1 Cor. 12:26).
While the church is not designed to take responsibility for its members financial responsibilities, it can do many things at the margin to help. We are expected to be proactive in addressing our hurting members. Some of the areas the church should consider addressing to alleviate financial stress are listed below.
- Work habits. Believers should be taught to show up to work on time, to go the extra mile, to do what they say they will do, to not gossip, to treat others the way they would like to be treated, to dress appropriately and modestly, to respect authority and to pursue excellence. Do these sound familiar? The same Christian virtues we should be teaching from our pulpits are the characteristics employers desire from their workforce.
- Work skills. Churches should link individuals needing to obtain or improve their work skills with resources providing those skills. On-the-job training, free or low-cost internet courses, trade schools and formal education are among the many resources available.
- Personal financial planning and management. Many churches offer, and others should consider offering, courses in personal financial management.
- Networking. Churches usually have a significant number of businesspeople as congregants. These businesses can often be a link between those seeking employment and promotion to job openings and networks.
- Teach the word, encourage giving, model prayer and inspire faith and obedience. The gospel contains many promises that cannot fail.
"And whatever you do, do it heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. For you serve the Lord Christ" (Col. 3:23-24).
Money and finances certainly pale in comparison to the richness of the gospel. However, financial needs in our churches are important. Financial suffering is real. Whatever we can do to alleviate this suffering, we have done it unto Him.
"Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and hat you may be in good health, even as your soul is well" (3 John 2).
Dr. James Russell is a professor of economics at Oral Roberts University.
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