I have had many different lives during my seventy one years on this earth. When my father was our family breadwinner I enjoyed luxuries that many of my cousins never realized. We always had a relatively new luxury car. Our home was modern and filled with beautiful furnishings. After he died things changed drastically. Suddenly I learned what it was like to be continually worried that our family might run out of food before the next check came. My mother was masterful at stretching our meager income and somehow always found a way to keep us supplied with the basics of food, shelter and clothing but there was always a specter of losing it all looming over us. I suppose that because of that experience I never again took any good fortune for granted.
When I became an adult I worked alongside my husband to provide for our family. Neither of us ever made a great deal of money but we almost always had what we needed to enjoy a comfortable life. We were able to purchase a home and pay for our daughters to attend college. We even managed to prepare for our retirement years and have enough to take some wonderful trips here and there. Nonetheless I never quite got over the anxieties that I often felt when as a child I would look inside our refrigerator and see bare walls with a day or two left before we would be able to replenish our larders at the grocery store.
Living from check to check is stressful and so I have always had a clear understanding of the students that I taught who were living in circumstances even more dire than the ones that I had experienced. I knew that one small emergency or illness or needed repair can turn into a major disaster for anyone whose economic situation is precarious. I also understood that once someone is in such a situation even with very hard work it can be challenging to move up the economic ladder. For that reason I have never felt beset upon when my taxes were used to help others in need. Instead I have been grateful that I have enough to share for without government help and that of my community I don’t know what would have become of my brothers and me.
I have always lived with a sense of appreciation and a feeling that those of us who have more should help with those who have less. I have never begrudged the social programs that give people an economic boost even if they result in individuals like me paying the government a bit more to keep them running. I am a person who knows what it is like to wait all day long in a free clinic to get inoculations for school. I am someone who benefitted from the social security payments that kept my brothers and I alive after my father died.
With the scourge of the pandemic and the bust of the oil industry there are still millions of American citizens who suddenly find themselves unemployed. These are people who only months ago had great jobs and plans for the future. With little or no warning they were suddenly informed that their positions were being eliminated. It was a kind of insult added to injury as they scrambled to cope with all of the inconveniences of the pandemic. In some cases both husbands and wives faced unexpected job loss, so when Congress voted to provide an additional six hundred dollars a month to their unemployment checks it was a godsend. In may instances it was literally the needed assurance to keep their homes. Nonetheless I also learned of people that I know who became homeless in a time when we were supposed to huddling in our domiciles.
There are many unfortunate souls who are now in a state of anxiety because those extra payments are slated to end soon and they have yet to find new jobs. Even as many in the retail and service industries are opening back up and lowering the numbers of those without work, large corporations like BP are announcing plans to lay off ten thousand more. Sadly both the president and many in the general public are reluctant to extend the unemployment benefit past July. They even cruelly suggest that those who are still hunting for jobs are just lazy slackers who need to get off of their behinds and get back to work.
That would be all well in good if everyone had a position waiting for them to go back to work. I personally know highly educated, brilliant and hard working individuals who have been unsuccessfully attempting to find jobs for over three months. In a good economy they would have been snapped up in a week or so, but our present situation is still fragile and employers are reluctant to begin a hiring frenzy. The more likely outcome is that there may be even more layoffs in the coming weeks. Knowing that, the unemployed people that I know have expressed a willingness to relocate anywhere in the world if necessary. They will uproot their families and venture far away from the lives they have built if that is what it takes. In the meantime they need help because for every job that materializes there are thousands of applicants.
Most of us have only been slightly inconvenienced by Covid-19. We may be bored and desirous of resuming our normal lives but we are not wondering what we ill do when our savings are gone and we have no new leads on work. We should all be insisting that we take care of our fellow citizens in these unprecedented times. Even if it takes a pinch out of our own comfortable lives we should not mind. Americans are known for generosity. Now more than ever we need to think of the people who are lying awake at night worrying and provide them with the reassurance that we will not let them down.
Ironically when I was writing this blog I made a cup of tea and reached for a fortune cookie that came with a takeout dinner that we enjoyed a few Fridays ago. The message inside seemed to say it all, “Pure love is a willingness to give without a thought of receiving anything in return.” We have to get through all of this together. The weight of sacrifice should not be limited to a few. Demand that Congress continue to take care of people still struggling to find work.