As the old saying goes, 'In God we trust -- all others pay cash.' As our economy shows promising signs of recovery, the cash is not translating into jobs. Even though February saw an increase in jobs, the unemployment rate stayed stuck at 8.9 percent -- nearly twice what it was in 2007. It's even worse for the most vulnerable workers: teenagers (23.9 percent), African Americans (15.3 percent) and Hispanics (11.6 percent). The long-term unemployed make up nearly 44 percent of the 8.3 million Americans looking for work.
But the cash is there. Last summer, the Federal Reserve reported that non-financial companies were holding on to $1.84 trillion in cash and other liquid assets. That's right -- trillions! This is a 36 percent increase over the previous year and the largest increase since 1952. Cash reserves made up 7 percent of all company assets, the highest percentage since 1963.
So why are they hanging on to all that cash instead of using it to create jobs? The answer is trust. No one trusts the recovery, Wall Street, the stimulus packages, or each other. The gods of Wall Street fell from grace a few years ago and now everyone is hanging on to their cash until Zeus returns.
Another kind of faith creates jobs. Faith in the biblical God demands the right use of our material resources in ways that uphold workers' rights and advances the common good. Job creation is good stewardship of those cash reserves because it spreads the wealth around so everyone can benefit. We can afford to create good paying jobs, safe jobs, and dignified jobs. We do not have to make a choice between balancing state budgets and protecting workers' rights, because the God who demands good stewardship is also a just God.
Interfaith Worker Justice, a national network of religious leaders and faith communities, is stepping out in this kind of faith. April 1-4, religious, labor, and community leaders across the nation will be advocating for a just economy during the We Are One Days of Action. They are keeping the vision of Martin Luther King Jr. alive -- a vision of an economy that lifts the poor and protects the middle class. On the anniversary of his death on April 4, the most fitting way to carry on his legacy is to create an economy which equates faith with the just stewardship of corporate wealth.
The economists are right when they say that confidence needs to be restored in order to get our economy working again. But the confidence needs to be placed in the practical wisdom that comes from trusting in the Lord rather than the lords of Wall Street.
Rev. Darren Cushman Wood is the senior minister of Speedway United Methodist Church in Indiana and serves on the board of Interfaith Worker Justice. He is the author of Blue Collar Jesus: How Christianity Supports Workers Rights and a contributor to A Worker Justice Reader: Essential Writings on Religion and Labor.