“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”
— Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.
With Christmas fast approaching, most of us will be rushing about — either to the stores and malls or on-line — to do our holiday shopping in hopes of finding that “perfect” gift for our family members and loved ones.
Although economic uncertainty, spurred by the after-effects of record-high inflation, continues to afflict almost every American household, most of us are doing okay, if not extremely well, thanks to unemployment rates that are near historically record-lows.
However, the strong economy (from an employment standpoint) that is being enjoyed by the majority of Americans has not been shared by all. For a sizable number of our fellow citizens, the lingering effects of the pandemic, as well as the fraying of the fabric of our social safety net in recent years, have come together to represent an existential disaster.
Millions of Americans of all ages, in a percentage greater than at any time since the Great Depression, are struggling financially, even if they have a job. To put it in stark terms, more Americans, including families in our own communities, are going hungry than at any time in our recent history. One in eight households (12.8 percent) experience food insecurity, defined as the lack of access to an affordable, nutritious diet. An estimated 44.2 million Americans live in these households. A recent Feeding America survey found that 80% of network food banks reported either increased or steady demand for emergency food services, with almost 35% of responding food banks reporting an increase in the number of people they serve.
In addition, thanks to the lack of affordable new housing and sky-high rents, far too many of our fellow citizens, including children, live either in shelters or in similar temporary housing arrangements — or on the streets — because our economy literally has left them out in the cold. Millions of Americans of all ages, including those in our own communities, are struggling financially, often through no fault of their own, thanks to a combination of low-wage jobs and a strong real estate market that ironically has made apartments (let alone buying a home) unaffordable. This dichotomy is most evident and acute in cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and right here in Boston (most notably at the infamous Mass. and Cass intersection in the South End). Despite the vast wealth in those metropolitan areas, thousands of homeless Americans, including many who have full-time jobs, are living in tent and cardboard “neighborhoods” on city sidewalks.
The homeless always have been among us, but the scope and depth of the problem is far beyond anything that has been experienced in our lifetime. The vast discrepancy between the enormous wealth enjoyed by some Americans and the abject poverty being endured by others is similar to what exists in major urban centers in South America and India — but it now is happening right here in the U.S.A.
For these millions of Americans, the holiday season brings no joy.
Psychologists tell us that the Biblical directive, that we should give to those who are less fortunate, is the best gift that we can give to ourselves. Helping others activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating the so-called “warm glow” effect.
Never in the lifetime of anybody reading this editorial has the need for contributions to local food banks been more urgent. There will be ample opportunities in the coming days to make the holidays brighter for those who are less fortunate, whether it be donations to local food banks and toy programs, or even just dropping a few dollars in the buckets of the Salvation Army Santas.
There simply is no excuse for those of us who are among the more fortunate for failing to make some effort over the next four weeks to make the holidays brighter for those who are less fortunate.