What will Thanksgiving 2022 hold for a nation beleaguered by pandemic and recession?
On the cons side, 2021 hasn’t exactly been the glorious return to normalcy we optimistically hoped it would be at the close of 2020.
The nation is as politically divided as ever. In fact, the nation has seldom been so divided since the tumultuous days of the Vietnam War. Disagreements, and bitter ones, have marked this year as they marked the previous one.
And the one before that.
COVID-19 took a big bite out of Thanksgiving 2020; it took a bigger bite out of Thanksgiving 2021. The pandemic, and the many unprecedented measures we took to mitigate it, seems to have…done things to society.
In major cities across the U.S., crime has been skyrocketing over the past year. Smash and grab robberies perpetrated by large organized groups have become strangely common, almost overnight. The FBI estimates the U.S. murder rate has increased by over 30%. Washington, D.C. just recorded its 200th murder- the highest in two decades- and the year isn’t over yet.
The San Francisco Chronicle got dragged recently for suggesting city residents might need to “learn to tolerate” burglaries as a part of city life and focus on barricading their homes. The city of Santa Monica was similarly criticized for a Twitter post encouraging residents out shopping for the upcoming holiday season call 311 to report any business not enforcing mask mandates.
“I saw two homeless people trying to stab each other over a half-smoked cigarette this morning, who do I call about that?” and “Someone was going number two at the bus stop this morning, and I’m pretty sure his mask was under his nose,” comprised a vast majority of the comments.
Increasing rates of gun violence, an intentional act of terrorism at a Christmas parade this week, and rising rates in suicide among teenagers aren’t the end of misfortunes hitting the U.S. this holiday.
The sad news that 100,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses last year, up 30% from last year, is particularly grim- especially as the news is combined with equally depressing stats about deaths caused by fentanyl.
The economic news isn’t great, either. The working-class is being squeezed from multiple directions this year: inflation, higher fuel prices, and higher heating costs heading into winter.
Separately, these challenges could be weathered, especially given so much government largesse lavished on working households over the past year. Together, they are enough to knock working-class families right down the socioeconomic ladder.
Heading into 2022, it is hard not to feel a bit more pessimistic about next year’s prospects than we felt about last year’s.
All these social problems- from rising rates of gun violence to rising rates of suicide and overdoses- are worrying enough. More worrying, is the strong possibility that all these things are merely the tip of the iceberg.
Across the country, elementary, middle and high schools have begun closing; for days, even weeks. The reason isn’t COVID-19; America’s children are suffering from serious social issues. Fights, altercations, and other behavioral problems are causing so many disruptions, teachers and school administrators are at a loss.
Returning to online learning may seem easy in the short-term, but as has been amply demonstrated over the last 18 months, students who didn’t have access to in-person learning suffered more learning setbacks than their peers who never lost access to the school room.
Online instruction has simply not been adequate for many students, and those at or near the poverty line with less family and community support have been hurt most by the loss of access to quality in-person public education.
What will the future hold for these students?
It was very much hoped in many quarters that the election of Joe Biden would usher in a new era of good feelings, as COVID-19 eased thanks to vaccines and the economy gradually improved.
After nearly a year of governance, the results have been underwhelming for many.
It may be, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Joe Biden have suggested, that the media is doing a poor job of covering the Biden Administration and a poor job of selling Democratic legislative packages to the public.
While voting Democrats nervous about the impending mid-terms- where prospects for Democrats are looking pretty grim at the moment- are likely to be happy that Biden achieved a win recently on Capitol Hill, nothing in the infrastructure bill will do much about short-term inflation, opioid and fentanyl overdoses, the price of fuel or the upcoming season of heating costs expected to increase by 50% for some households.
That these households will be those who can least afford it, is something with which Democrats haven’t yet had to grapple.
But they will.
In fact, plenty of economists, and not just the gloomy ones, are predicting more government spending is the last thing the U.S. economy needs right now.
Whether or not this is true, time will tell. As we have seen all too well over the past two years: What a difference a year can make. It could be, as so many insist, that all these problems are merely the sad if unavoidable result of the many life-saving measures we took to mitigate COVID-19.
If they are right, Thanksgiving 2022 is bound to be happier than 2021 and 2020. Until then, we will all just have to count our blessings and hope for spring.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)