As we approach the end of the year, the stark reality of this moment challenges my idealism. As I write this, every state in the U.S. has an out-of-control coronavirus spread and death toll.
In Washington, for the week ending Dec. 6, 2020, we lost more than double the number of lives than at the height of prior surges. The devastating loss shows no sign of slowing.
Even as the vaccines provide some hope, we are on track for economic destruction — far worse than the Great Recession — related to the virus and lack of appropriate government intervention. It will be felt hardest by people already living in poverty and all the people barely making ends meet from month to month. The devastation continues to disproportionately impact people of color, exacerbating preexisting systemic inequalities.
Approximately 19 million people are facing eviction at the end of the eviction moratorium, which is more than the total number of people who have tested positive for the virus in the U.S. at the time of this writing. A recent U.S. academic study found evictions increase COVID cases and deaths. Yet, we are on the cusp of the end of the eviction moratorium.
The moratorium was never the just form of relief. The debt accumulating when people cannot afford to pay rent is staggering. It is a moral failing of our nation that in the middle of a global pandemic, people have no choice but to pay rent with a credit card or otherwise accumulate a debt that landlords will undoubtedly try to collect.
Hunger, while always more of a problem than it should be, has worsened in this pandemic. In Washington state, according to Northwest Harvest, 1 in 10 Washingtonians consistently struggled with hunger. Those numbers were pre-pandemic. According to Hunger in America, more than 50 million people in the U.S. may face hunger because of the coronavirus. The United Nations World Food Program, which recently received the Nobel Peace Prize, estimates there has been an 82% increase, so now 270 million people experience acute hunger globally.
As much as I believe in the good of people, regardless of political affiliation, little acts of kindness are no substitute for strong federal leadership in times of crisis.
Fighting poverty and public health should never have been partisan issues. Perhaps it was inevitable with our foundation of enslaving humans to benefit a few wealthy people.
Even if Georgia’s senate runoff displaces the obstructionist Republican senate majority, the damage before new legislation and policies can be enacted may be catastrophic. My short-term idealism is significantly challenged, but I do remain hopeful that the moral universe bends toward justice.
Read more of the Dec. 16-22, 2020 issue.