Two recent articles from the New York Times discuss the role of unemployment in the lives of men. The articles (here and here). In summary, the articles point out that men between the ages of 25 and 54 (termed prime-aged men) are vanishing from the workforce. In the late 1960’s, the percent unemployed was 5%. Today, that has tripled to 16%. A subset of these men are eager to find work. Some are using the time to go to school. Some apply for permanent disability and once approved, live off the insurance proceeds as well as their savings and the generosity of our government. Still others choose to retire early, which means they permanently leave the workforce. But as many as 44% are choosing not to work instead of taking low-paying jobs. They choose to remain on welfare when they could work a lower paying job.
Some find it hard to “shrink” into a job that is beneath their station in life. And with our current welfare benefit structures, they are able to make a real decision between working and not working. If the job pays similar to what their benefits pay, one does lack incentive to take the lower paying job.
Having been unemployed myself, I’m highly sympathetic to a man’s plight who isn’t working. Lack of employment saps a man’s dignity and purpose. Our sense of manhood is often damaged through extended unemployment. But staying on unemployment benefits when one could work seems to us to be sin.
Work is a gift from God. Work gives us purpose, dignity and a means of providing for ourselves and those around us. Work enables us to express our God-given creativities and talents. To turn down work when it is available has several deleterious effects:
- Studies show that the longer one goes without work, the harder it is to find employment
- The longer one does not work, the more public assistance and services are required to support that individual
- The idea of fairness – helping a guy when he’s down – is assaulted when the guy could take work but chooses not to
- God’s provision through work is traded for provision through the government
- The loss of dignity and purpose is compounded by the turning down of work
We understand the emotional drain and associated problems with taking a low-paying job. But as Christians, we should never be below taking honest work for honest pay when it is the only option that will take us off government dependence.
This is where Christian business owners can fulfill their call to philanthropy. Perhaps there are some who could hire men (or women) who are only qualified for low-paying jobs and give them such jobs, but pay a rate a notch above market. Offer to train this person for future work that would require a higher salary. And help give the individual the opportunity to come back to the work force, be productive, find dignity and worth again through their own labor and help relieve society of this person’s support.
While most MBA programs would tell you to not do this – don’t pay more than what you must to retain the talent you need in your business – I think God calls us to look beyond the American ways of running a business sometimes. Surely, can we not support our brother and invest in him for the future? In the end, is not God’s pleasure with us for more valuable than any amount of money we would ever earn or have?
We think so. We hope you do too.
CEO and Founder, Bible and Business.