It's the holiday season in the United States and members of Congress and corporate executives are home with their families.
Meanwhile, in a year that Congress decided to slash funds for the federal food stamp program while also refusing to extend unemployment benefits to millions of people still suffering from a financial crisis created by large banks and a corrupted government, working people and the nation's most vulnerable have been left to fend for themselves.
Focusing on the unemployment crisis, Mother Jones reports:
Officially, the Great Recession of 2007 ended in June 2009. Yet the economic downturn remains in full effect for millions of Americans, particularly the nearly 40 percent of the unemployed who have been looking for work for six months or more.
10 Reasons Long-Term Unemployment Is a National Catastrophe
In less than a week, emergency federal unemployment benefits for 1.3 million of these jobless Americans are set to run out. Proponents of ending the benefits argue that the economy is expanding and that the benefits prevent people from finding work. "You get out of a recession by encouraging employment not encouraging unemployment," according to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who opposes extending benefits. However, the data shows that while corporate America has bounced back, it is not restoring all the jobs it shed when the economy tanked five years ago.
Currently, nearly 11 million Americans are unemployed. The unemployment rate stands at 7 percent. Both of those stats are improvements from a little more than four years ago, when the post-recession jobless rate peaked at 10 percent and more than 15 million people were out of work.
Mother Jones reporting also looks at the discrepancy between those at the top of the economy and those at the bottom: "Real corporate profits after taxes have grown 30 percent since 2007, while the number of jobs is still below its pre-recession level."
And Karen McVeigh, writing at the Guardian, looks at the struggles of those who making ends meet at a food panty in San Antonio, Texas where she found families who were barely getting by before now facing the brink as congressional decisions cut the legs out from under them:
Deep cuts to the US food stamps programme, designed to keep low-income Americans out of hunger in the aftermath of the economic recession, have forced increasing numbers of families such as theirs to rely on food banks and community organisations to stave off hunger.
An expansion of the programme, put in place when the recession was biting deepest, was allowed to expire in November, cutting benefits for an estimated 48 million people, including 22 million children, by an average of 7%.
As these cuts begin to bite, even harsher reductions are in prospect. Republicans in the House of Representatives have proposed $38bn cuts over 10 years, in their latest version of a long-delayed farm bill that would also require new work requirements and drug tests for food stamp recipients.
As the record of Congress reflects, the problem is clearly a political problem. But as former labor secretary Robert Reich recently articulated, the real issue is a moral one. Reflecting on the behavior of the Republicans and Democrats who have ruled Washington for the last three decades, Reich wrote:
The underlying issue is a moral one: What do we owe one another as members of the same society?
Conservatives answer that question by saying it’s a matter of personal choice – of charitable works, philanthropy, and individual acts of kindness joined in “a thousand points of light.”
But that leaves out what we could and should seek to accomplish together as a society. It neglects the organization of our economy, and its social consequences. It minimizes the potential role of democracy in determining the rules of the game, as well as the corruption of democracy by big money. It overlooks our strivings for social justice.
In short, it ducks the meaning of a decent society.
And if that political expression demands a personal one, the bright spot is that even as the harm that the US Congress has inflicted on the American people is felt at the individual level, so too is the resilience and good-natured spirit of those so brutally treated by an economy subservient to the wealthiest and dismissive of the most in need.
As Denise Acosta, a single mom who lost her home and car because of medical bills and now struggling to make ends meet for her four children, told McVeigh: “For a while I had trouble sleeping. I would go to bed at three and four in the morning and I went through a depression. But I tell myself the children depend on me. I think 'Mind over matter'. People are worse off than me.”
Merry Christmas, Congress. Happy New Year, Corporate America.