“‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”Matthew 25:37-40
Since the coronavirus began tearing through our communities and shutting down businesses earlier this year, we’ve heard from many people who have lost jobs, experienced a reduction in hours, or been forced to make tough decisions about their own businesses. Even those of us who have made it this far relatively unscathed worry whether a slow economic recovery could yet threaten our own livelihoods. For many of us, this has been a difficult time.
By all accounts, it has been most difficult for those already living on the edge. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell reported last week that 40% of people living in households with incomes of less than $40,000 had reported a job loss; people with the lowest incomes are losing their jobs at a higher rate than anyone else. This is also true of the unemployment rate by education level. Some have claimed that COVID-19 is a “great leveler,” that the virus does not discriminate. But early data shows that the virus is twice as deadly for black and Latino people than for their white neighbors, highlighting longstanding economic inequalities and disparities in access to health care.
In the weeks and months ahead, facing decreasing revenues and increasing budget deficits, we as a state and as a nation will face hard decisions about how to right the ship. We will have to weigh proposals to cut programs that serve those who have been hardest hit by this pandemic against proposals to increase revenue in order to fully fund those programs. As this conversation unfolds, let us be a voice for those whom Jesus called “the least of these who are members of my family.”