I asked my daughter, "What's your favorite thing about Thanksgiving?"
She answered in one exuberant word, "Eating!"
Eating. While many celebrate by eating together on Thanksgiving, far too many children in our nation (nearly 1 in 4) live in families who are struggling to put food on the table because of poverty.
And for them, this Thanksgiving will be a tough one.
So now is certainly not the time to throw even more families into poverty. But that is what will happen in just 5 short weeks if Congress doesn't act. The clock is ticking for millions of American families desperately looking for jobs who will lose unemployment insurance on December 31st, right after Christmas.
Families like Karoline's, who writes:
"My husband lost his job in July. He is college-educated with 10 years of experience in the engineering field. He should be able to find another job. Unfortunately, although he has had several interviews, he has been unable to find full-time work. Our family is surviving on my salary but barely, and I'm scared of what will happen to us and our two young children. If unemployment benefits run out, we will be unable to make our mortgage payments and will become one of the millions of families going through foreclosure. Only a few months ago, we were financially sound enough to enjoy a family vacation. Now we are struggling. It can happen in the blink of an eye."
And families like Teresa's:
"I lost my job of over 20 years in retail I went back to school and earned a Bachelor's degree but I still can't find a job--help!"
There are 1.8 million families hanging on the edge waiting for Congress to act as the clock ticks down for those who want to work, but can't find jobs.
Let me just state the obvious: We can do better. Our nation's priorities are out of whack. The true measure of our success is whether families like Karoline's and Teresa's can make it - not just only whether corporations have record profits. It's critical that both businesses and families can thrive in our nation. Yet we are out of balance.
There's more wealth in our country than ever before, yet most Americans never see it.
- Between 1979 and 2009, the richest 5% of American families saw their real incomes increase 73% while the poorest Americans saw their real incomes decrease by 7%.
- And in 2010, the wealthiest 1% of Americans took home 24% of all U.S. income.
- In fact, the wealthiest 1% of American families now own more than one third of the nation's net worth, and the top 10% owns more than 70% of the nation's net worth.
- Sad but true, the gap between the wealthiest 1% and the rest is greater now than even during the Great Depression.
When greedy corporations rig the economy, America loses.
Right now, every day, American families are facing decisions between putting food on the table, paying the rent, buying school supplies, and obtaining medical care and prescription drugs. This is no time to leave those who count on unemployment insurance out in the cold.
It doesn't have to be this way.
America didn't become strong by putting families last. When times are tough, instead of cutting back vital programs, we need to make sure that families are protected so that we can rebuild the economic engine of our future. Policies like extending unemployment insurance will immediately help keep 1.8 million families afloat--and will also support our struggling economy.
How does extending unemployment insurance help our economy? Studies show that the money received as part of unemployment insurance is usually spent right away, and as a result, an independent study found that every $1 spent on unemployment insurance stimulated $2 in growth in the U.S. economy.
Our country is a nation of neighbors helping each other--and we can't let families down when they're already struggling. And families are truly struggling: The Census data released last month showed that nearly one in six American women are living in poverty, and 22% of children are living in poverty. On top of that bad news, there are 25 million Americans who want to work, but who can't find full-time jobs.
Families should be able to work hard and get what they need -- a good job, food on the table, good health, and a safe place to call home.
America offers freedoms and a democracy unlike anywhere else in the world. And through our democratic process, we together have the power to rebuild our economy so both businesses and families can thrive. But too often we assume we are powerless, so we don't act as if our voices matter. They do.
It's time to step back and remember that we together can help those whose blessings are less abundant this year. That starts by ensuring that families who rely on unemployment insurance don't lose their lifeline. Let's raise our voices together to make sure Congress doesn't forget how many of us are suffering and that we urgently need them to act -- right now.
When you're at your table this Thanksgiving and the level of conversation is high, take a moment to remember the true meaning of this holiday: We all do better when communities pull together through good times and bad, when neighbors look out for each other, and when we ALL have enough to eat and a place at the table. No child should be hungry on Thanksgiving, or on any day.
Follow Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rowefinkbeiner