“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 record-high inflation, affects almost every American, most of us are doing okay, if not extremely well, thanks to record-low unemployment rates.
However, the good economy (from an employment standpoint) 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 history.
According to the US Dept. of Agriculture, more than 34 million Americans, including nine million children, are food insecure. We should recall that during the height of the pandemic when schools and senior citizen centers were closed, the biggest effect was upon our children and seniors, who relied on programs administered by the schools, government agencies, and non-profits for their only meal of the day.
Far too many of our fellow citizens, including children, live either in shelters or in similar temporary housing arrangements — or on the streets — because the reality of our economy has left them out in the cold — literally.
Statistics tell us that 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 at Mass. and Cass. Despite the vast wealth in those metropolitan areas, thousands of homeless persons, 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 opportunity to do so 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 as simple as dropping a few dollars in the buckets of the Salvation Army Santas, there will be multiple opportunities in the next four weeks for each and every one of us to make the holidays brighter for those who are less fortunate. There is no excuse for failing to do so.