By DAVID YOUNT
Scripps Howard News Service
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Just as we hunker down to survive the worldwide economic collapse, we are confronted daily with news of fellow Americans who already have lost their homes, jobs and life savings.
In one important respect, Americans today are at a greater disadvantage than those who faced the Great Depression some 70 years ago. In 1930, the vast majority of the nation's households consisted of families led by married couples. Today, many more households consist of adult Americans who face life alone.
They include solitary men and women, single parents, the divorced, widowed and unwed partners.
At the outset of the Great Depression, the typical American household contained five members spanning as many as three generations. This time around, the average household has only half as many people living under the same roof, and they are not necessarily related by blood or marriage.
More than one-fourth of American households now consist of men and women living alone.
Say what you will about the uncertainty of marriage in our times, but no one can doubt that men, women and children are better off when they can count on others who care for them, especially in hard times such as we face now. Government can bail out banks and businesses more easily than it can help individuals who have no one to care for them except themselves.
New York Times columnist David Brooks observes that "recessions are about more than material deprivation. They're also about fear and diminished expectations. ... Recessions breed pessimism. That's why birthrates tend to drop and suicide rates tend to rise."
He predicts that the new recession is "likely to produce a new social group: the formerly middle class."
Most vulnerable to the downturn will be those who have neither a spouse nor family to turn to in adversity. Today's children of divorce can be forgiven for being reluctant to embrace wedlock themselves when they reach adulthood. Still, the ideals of marriage stand as a bulwark against solitude and the breakdown of the economy. No other institution is designed for mutual support in sickness and in health, for richer and poorer.
It is probably too late in the day to expect a resurgence of wedlock in America, so we will have to make do with the lesson of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and trust to neighborliness.
As we aim to simplify our lives and live with less, we will be tempted to reduce our generosity to those in need who call upon our charity during the holiday season. That would be a mistake.
The parable of the Good Samaritan was Jesus' way of humbling a religious lawyer who asked, "Master, what must I do to be sure of eternal life?" — knowing full well that it required loving both God and his neighbor. The Samaritan of Jesus' celebrated story was one who gave of his time and his substance to help a solitary stranger in need.
"Go and do likewise," Jesus told him — and us.
David Yount's Growing in Faith: A Guide for the Reluctant Christian (Seabury) is now available in paperback. He answers readers at P.O. Box 2758, Woodbridge, VA 22195 and firstname.lastname@example.org.