Two years ago I was panicking, making hundreds of phone calls to postpone my wedding that was a few days away. It was March 2020.
A global pandemic had reached the United States and changed each of our lives in ways we never imagined. Millions of Americans would lose jobs, friends, family, and even their lives to COVID-19, while billionaires would see record increases in their wealth.
While the country ground to a halt, and I googled whether an imam would perform our marriage over Zoom, there was a glimmer of hope at the back of my mind. Surely, I thought, an event so monumental — one that laid bare every inequity of our economic system — would call for a change of equal measure.
There was a swell of recognition that working people were essential. Affordable child care — and well paid providers — were revealed as the backbone of a functioning economy. Free health care suddenly seemed like a great idea.
As a new administration took over, some short term changes in the American Rescue Plan kept people from falling off a steep cliff.
Vaccines were distributed freely and efficiently. Americans got bigger stimulus checks, while workers who lost jobs got more generous unemployment insurance. Families with kids started getting monthly direct payments through the expanded Child Tax Credit.
But when it came time to pass the more transformative, longer term changes we needed, the lessons of the past two years weren’t enough for some politicians.
The Build Back Better Act would have reset the terms for how child care, housing, and income support operate in our country. It would have extended the Child Tax Credit, created green jobs, and much more.
But every one of the 263 Republicans in the House and Senate — plus Senate Democrat Joe Manchin — opposed it. For this, they were rewarded handsomely by corporate lobbyists. Oil giant Exxon, for example, donated $65,000 to Manchin’s campaign and bragged about their access to the senator, who also owns stock in the company.
A good deal for Manchin. Not so much for the many Americans who can’t fill up their tank for less than $100. We were so close to living in a country where higher gas prices, or an extra few dollars for ground beef, didn’t mean someone going to bed without dinner.
Companies that monopolize these necessities deserve the blame for a lot of inflation, including the rising cost of gas and food. But they’re also to blame for the fact that they don’t pay their workers enough to meet those costs.
Big corporations artificially raise the price of diapers, while also lobbying against extending the Child Tax Credit for people who buy them. The credit has since expired, throwing millions of kids back into poverty.
Banks are benefiting from the Federal Reserve’s decision to raise interest rates while also refusing Black people mortgage loans to buy a house and build up generational wealth.
Two years later, I can enjoy the photos from the in-person wedding I was finally able to have after my family and friends could get vaccinated. I’m grateful for that semblance of normalcy. But some things shouldn’t go back to the status quo.
We can’t fall back into a system where small unexpected expenses put entire families in poverty. We should be able to pay our bills and save some for the future, too. While that might sound “normal,” it’s been many decades since that’s been the reality for the average American.
But that doesn’t mean nothing at all has changed. As we grapple with another year of COVID-19, it’s time we flex the power that comes with being essential and fight for a new economy that favors people, not just corporations.
Domenica Ghanem is a communications consultant on political and social justice campaigns. This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.