November 27, 2020
The outpouring of Thanksgiving Day “gratitude” – much of it no doubt sincere, too much of it sappy treacle – is over. So, on to Black Friday and the next round of hyped-up consumer gratification, right? Despite everything making 2020 such a rough ride – the Covid-19 pandemic and a nail-biting presidential election leading the list – the American materialist party is still on, is it not? The big holidays loom, and there’s just so much to look forward to, yes?
Maybe so for the nation’s financial elite delighted to see the stock market gorge itself on the free money afforded it by the Federal Reserve, but hardly so for the mass of America’s unemployed, falling ever deeper into desperate precarity. The ranks of the unemployed continue to swell (this week’s Department of Labor figures show new unemployment claims are up again, as they were the week before), and there’s not been a week since March when combined federal and state unemployment claims haven’t surpassed 1 million. At least 20 million would-be workers are unemployed, and economists across the ideological spectrum concur that even that frightening figure represents a significant undercount of the actual underemployed. Many more millions are under-employed, needing full-time work but not able to get it.
Clearly, the economy recovery following the initial hit caused by the pandemic shutdowns, such as it was, is faltering. The virus is again surging, prompting another round of (disorganized) contraction of ordinary business and travel, precisely at the time that government support for individuals and small businesses is scheduled to evaporate. It’s not only hospitals and medical workers that are being overwhelmed. Miles-long food lines are forming on a daily basis all across the country, straining relief agencies past the breaking point; US Census survey data indicate that 12% of adults, and 16% of children, regularly do not get enough to eat. At least 6 million people stand at risk of homelessness in January as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eviction moratorium ends.
The need for massive and immediate government relief could not be more evident. A Harris poll suggests that 80% of the American people – regardless of party affiliation (or none at all) – want action now. So, what is Congress doing about it? Nothing. Literally, nothing. Maybe they’ve all gone, with brimming gratitude, Black Friday shopping.