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Nearly 26 million Americans don’t have enough food to eat, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s the highest number since the coronavirus pandemic began in March.
In Maine, the Good Shepherd Food Bank has seen demand increase by about 25 percent since June. The number of families served by the Dover Area Food Cupboard has increased by more than 50 percent since the start of the pandemic. People waited hours for fresh fruit, potatoes, frozen meat and canned goods at a drive-through distribution event in September.
Earlier this week, the Maine Department of Labor announced that new unemployment claims rose a bit in the previous week.
Nationally, the number of unemployment claims rose for a second straight week.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, a measure of the stock price trends of 30 large U.S. companies, topped 30,000 for the first time on Tuesday.
Some analysts — and the president — touted the milestone as an indicator of an economic rebound. President Donald Trump held an odd one-minute press conference to tout the stock market milestone.
Clearly, when tens of millions of Americans are jobless and hungry, the performance of the stock market is a poor indicator of the wellbeing of average Americans.
This was a point made in a column written by Heather Boushey, president and CEO of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, and published by the Washington Post in September.
“How have stocks remained so resilient in the face of such a severe shock? In part, it’s because of inequality. Stocks are overwhelmingly owned by the top 1 percent, which means speculation has been able to continue even as more people have lost their jobs than at any time since the Great Depression,” Boushey wrote.
“What’s more, measures such as the Dow and the S&P 500 reflect only the very largest U.S. companies, which can weather steep slumps in demand in a way that Main Street enterprises can’t,” she added.
To help those Main Street enterprises and Americans who are unemployed, and may soon face eviction and hunger, Boushey reiterates the importance of another round of relief from Congress.
Disagreement over the pricetag and scope of a relief bill has stalled negotiations in Washington. Naturally, the size of relief legislation matters, but so does its contents.
The House, controlled by Democrats, passed a $3 trillion relief package in May and a pared down $2 trillion one in October. The Republican-controlled Senate has focused on smaller bills, focused more on support for companies than for American people.
Without action from Congress, several relief programs will end next month leaving millions of Americans to face a loss of unemployment benefits, food assistance, protection from eviction and facing other hardships.
That’s why it’s essential that Congress quickly passes a relief package. It should include enhanced unemployment benefits along with additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program. Stimulus checks for individuals and rental relief also remain priorities to help American families get through what is shaping up to be a hard winter.
From the beginning, coronavirus relief was meant to help workers, families and businesses get through the economic downturn that came with restrictions aimed at controlling the spread of coronavirus. That downturn was expected to be temporary. But, without a coordinated federal approach to the virus — or even a consistent message about its severity and the precautions that should be taken to avoid it — the illness has spread across the country with 1 million cases now being recorded each week.
Despite a strong stock market, millions of Americans are suffering. Congress has the power to help them. It should use it.