Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and author of the book “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
At my family’s Thanksgiving table, we begin the meal by saying what we’re thankful for, and every year we list the same themes: We are grateful for our health. For the food on the table. We are grateful that we have one another.
This year, many American families will find gratitude harder to summon heading into the holidays. Unemployment, widespread hunger and unchecked sickness and death are weighing heavily.
The President doesn’t seem too worried – and neither does Wall Street. The Dow went above 30,000 on Tuesday, and then Trump popped out before the cameras to crow about the market’s success. It was brief – just one minute – but obscene. There is perhaps no greater example of the distortions wrought by the President’s reliance on the markets as indicators for American financial well-being than this: A record-high Dow, while record numbers of Americans are hungry.
The non-profit organization Feeding America estimates that by the end of the year, more than 50 million American households could be food insecure – that is, lacking consistent access to healthy food. That’s one in six Americans, and includes some 17 million children – one in every four American kids.
“Experts say it is likely that there’s more hunger in the United States today than at any point since 1998, when the Census Bureau began collecting comparable data about households’ ability to get enough food,” according to a report in the Washington Post.
We’ve already seen the miles-long lines for food banks. School officials across the country have tried to balance the health risk of keeping schools open with the reality that millions of children rely on the cafeteria for meals they don’t get at home.
A study from Northwestern University found that because of the pandemic, “food insecurity has doubled overall, and tripled among households with children.” When children are food insecure, they face a host of ills. Their cognitive function is impaired. They are more likely to have asthma and anemia. And, of course, these children (and their parents) are more vulnerable to Covid-19.
Many of us are grateful to have avoided the disease this year. But many others have struggled through sickness – through damage to their bodies – and also lost loved ones to Covid-19. It can be hard to feel too grateful for your own health when you know that more than a quarter million of your fellow citizens (maybe people that you knew or loved) have died of coronavirus, and that many of those deaths could have been prevented if our government had taken the threat more seriously and acted as necessary.
And family togetherness? My family is gathering via Zoom this year – nice, but hardly the same as being able to give my loved ones a big hug. Traveling and gathering when Covid is again spiraling out of control is too risky.
Is this the kind of American “greatness” Trump promised? An America that is hungry, sick and isolated?
It is well past time that Americans were given the support they need to get through this pandemic. And American hunger didn’t start with Covid-19. Well before the pandemic, tens of millions of families were living on a razor’s edge, knowing that a job loss or an illness could push them over the brink.
That’s not just the sign of a cruelly individualistic society; it’s wholly unnecessary in an incredibly prosperous one. The pandemic didn’t create American suffering, but it has pushed millions of families over the edge all at once. And our government is largely missing in action.
There are small things all of us can do. Donate to your local food bank, or a food bank that needs it (here’s a map of where projected food insecurity rates are highest). Give money if you can, not just the soup cans in the back of your pantry. Stay home and don’t gather with people outside your household, which protects not just you and your loved ones, but the most vulnerable members of your community.
But while these small individual choices are important, they can’t solve this calamity alone. For that, we need real political leadership and policies that will ensure every person in America has enough to eat, a roof over their head, and the ability to get the medical care they need without facing financial ruin.
We need to make sure that small businesses can survive the coming tough winter – and that businesses like bars and restaurants can temporarily shutter to help curb the spread of the virus while still making the rent and paying their employees. In this crisis, we need leaders who work hard to make sure the pandemic is controlled to the best of anyone’s ability, and that its consequences – health care costs, job losses – are blunted by generous aid.
These are not big asks in a wealthy nation. Gratitude is valuable, but we shouldn’t have to feel lucky that we are fed, housed, and alive. It would be so much better to feel grateful to live in a country that took care of every soul within its borders – and that strove to do right by people outside of it, too.