In February, EmpireCLS was heading toward a second year of record business. The New Jersey car service company couldn’t find enough chauffeurs and office workers to meet its needs. And Empire wasn’t the only business that was booming. People were working. Consumers were spending. The stock market soared.
Then, with stunning speed, business in the United States—as well as elsewhere around the world—collapsed abruptly. It happened in the blink of an eye as the novel coronavirus was officially deemed a pandemic.
Travel plans were canceled or restricted. Suddenly, no one needed a chauffeur—or a hotel room or a plane ticket. Restaurants were told to close their dining rooms. Mass gatherings like concerts, conventions, and sporting events completely stopped.
“We went from full throttle to 90% revenue loss in three weeks,” Empire CEO David Seelinger says. “We’ve never seen anything like this.”
Economic advisor and professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School says Seelinger’s perception is accurate. The U.S. economy’s sudden stop inflicted a case of whiplash on Americans who had enjoyed a decade-plus of steady economic growth. Millions of jobs will likely be lost this spring and early summer. Investment portfolios (collections of stocks usually designed to fund retirement or education) plummeted in value.
“The economy has never gone from healthy to disaster so quickly,” says Furman. The financial crisis of 2007 occurred gradually over more than a year. Banks had given too many mortgages on real estate—often to individuals who didn’t have enough income to pay those loans back. That created a financial “bubble”—the appearance of a strong housing market. But it couldn’t last. As repayments on those bad loans became too difficult, the money stopped coming back in to the banks. That began in 2006, says Furman, and then “the financial tremors were in 2007, and the major financial events were spread out from February through September of 2008.”
That wasn’t the case with reaction to the COVID-19 news. “What would take years in a financial crisis has happened in days in this health crisis,” Furman concludes.
The current crash ended record achievements in the recovery that started in 2009. The U.S. economy added jobs for 113 straight months. Unemployment had hit a 50-year low. More than 96% of the work force was employed.
Public confidence was definitely up in the United States. But was that confidence in the right thing? Christians know that financial success and prosperity are gracious gifts from God. But they are never guarantees. God does not want us to strive after wealth, but to strive after advancing His character of grace, forgiveness, mercy, and love on Earth. Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things [material needs] will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)