America's failure to alleviate mass poverty during COVID-19 demonstrates the depths to which the country has sunk, writes Tarric Brooker.
IN THE months leading up to the French Revolution, a sizable proportion of France’s then population of 28 million often faced going hungry as a result of inflated food prices. While not the sole factor in the downfall of the monarchy, millions of Frenchmen going hungry played a key role in driving the peasantry toward revolt.
Despite Queen Marie Antoinette never actually uttering the famous phrase “let them eat cake”, the insufficient care by monarchy and the ruling class paid to the suffering of everyday people eventually proved to be their undoing.
Now amidst a once in a century pandemic and the worst economic crisis in almost a century, 54 million Americans are going hungry and almost 14 million face their unemployment benefits being cut off the day after Christmas.
Meanwhile, stock prices are at all-time highs, as liquidity injections provided by the U.S Federal Reserve flow into asset markets inflating prices. Billionaires are getting richer at a rate never before seen in the history of the world, while food bank lines stretch back as far as the eye can see across the United States.
In the past 7 days alone over 1.2 million Americans have lost their jobs, as cases of COVID-19 continue to explode to new record highs and hospitalisations set records with each passing day.
They join the more than 20 million Americans who are currently claiming unemployment benefits. Unlike Australia and other nations where unemployment benefits are available for as long as a citizen needs them, in the U.S there are time limits on how long they will be paid.
For some Americans their six months (a common time limit across the various states) has already passed, they are now at the mercy of temporary emergency programs that expire in less than a months’ time.
Despite the enormous scale of human suffering currently underway in the world’s wealthiest nation, in Washington, the political deadlock continues. Analysts suggest there is little chance of additional support this side of the New Year, as disagreement continues to rage over the size and composition of further aid packages.
The U.S. House of Representatives led by Democrat Speaker Nancy Pelosi has repeatedly passed multiple stimulus bills using their congressional majority, only for them to be voted down by the Republican-controlled Senate.
Meanwhile, Republican Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has refused to back the various $2 trillion stimulus bills due to their large cost, hundreds of billions in aid to struggling Democrat-led states and a number of other major ideological sticking points.
In a nation where tens of millions are going hungry, it’s concerning to see these peoples' livelihoods treated like a political football.
There is little doubt a support package would have passed long ago if Republicans were more willing to move toward a middle ground. But in the midst of the ongoing crisis it could also be argued that 30 per cent of something (a support package) is better than 100 per cent of nothing.
One would imagine that in a nation that has an estimated 400 million unregistered firearms and has seen widespread riots in recent months, that policymakers would pay more heed to the abject suffering of tens of millions of their citizens.
Despite rapidly widening inequality and what could be described as a humanitarian disaster unfolding, the American political elite is instead having a “let them eat cake” moment.
It may not result in the transformative anarchy that defined the French Revolution. But if this grave injustice is allowed to continue into the future, one thing is certain: there will be millions of Americans who will not take it lying down.
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