There are two lines that will tell you the story of the American economy right now. The first is the one President Donald Trump talks about — a lot: the Dow Jones Industrial Average. It’s an index that measures the stock prices of 30 of America’s largest and most representative companies. It tracks the value of Apple, Caterpillar, Coca Cola, Goldman Sachs, and companies like that.
The other line isn’t on a graph. It’s an image of thousands of cars lined up to get food for Thanksgiving at the North Texas Food bank in Dallas. In one week, the food bank distributed 6,000 pounds of food, including 7,280 turkeys — enough to feed 25,000 people this Thanksgiving. That’s just one food bank, in one American city.
There are two lines that will tell you the story of the American economy right now.
Those two lines tell the story of the "K-shaped" recovery in America. The top line of the “K” is up and to the right, for the investor class. The bottom line is down and to the right, for the working class, the working poor and the unemployed.
The number of people filing for first time unemployment benefits has risen to 778,000 people last week — more than three times the rate a year ago. Unemployment has run out for many Americans. A man named Evan wrote to me from Georgia recently, explaining how he was “a single baby step away from homelessness.” Evan was an out-of-work comedian with an immune disorder who lives with and cares for his mom. His extended unemployment has run out. He gets $150 a week. He can’t make his rent and has cut his grocery bill in half to pay his other bills. And last week, the $150 came to an end. He had nowhere to turn.
I read his letter to my viewers on my live show. He didn’t ask for anything, but viewers started contacting me asking where they could send him funds, so he set up a GoFundMe account. By the end of the day, hundreds of generous strangers — some with hardly enough to spare themselves — had donated over $7,500. Evan gets to breathe.
But Evan is not alone. In the richest country in the world live millions and millions of people whom the U.S. Department of Agriculture describes as “food insecure,” meaning they are “uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet the needs of all their members because they had insufficient money.” In 2019, when the economy was substantially stronger than it is today because of Covid-19, 13.7 million households — 10.5 percent of all U.S. households — were food insecure at some point.
That worked out to be about 35 million Americans. By June 2020, at the height of coronavirus shutdowns, that number was estimated by Brookings Institute to have hit 27.5 percent. A separate study by Northwestern University put it at 29.5 percent. If you do the math, somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 million Americans have not been sure how and from where they are going to get the next day’s meal.
America is the richest country in the world, and yet close to a third of our people know or fear hunger. Millions more face homelessness and hundreds of thousands live on the street. We need emergency aid from Congress.
While the difference between the Democrat's proposed Covid-19 relief bill and the current Senate GOP proposals seems to be size, it’s much deeper than that. The current Senate bill being pushed by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., rather than being composed mostly of direct relief payments and transfers for state and local governments, will serve mostly to indemnify companies that could otherwise face lawsuits if returning workers contract Covid-19. The broad based relief that economists — indeed Trump’s own Fed Chairman Jerome Powell — are calling for, is nowhere in sight.
When I moved to the U.S. 20 years ago from Canada, I remember being surprised by the role Thanksgiving played across ethnic and religious lines in America. The Canadian version of the holiday, which falls earlier in the calendar year, is nowhere near as significant as its older American sibling.
This Thanksgiving may matter more than any I have lived through in America. Families are missing each other, and new restrictions are causing distress for people who assumed this pandemic would have been on the wane almost nine months later. But for everyone who is fretting about travel, seeing family, or celebrating alone, there are millions of Americans for whom those problems are a luxury.