With the coronavirus crisis slamming the economy, people are going to go hungry — maybe on a level this country hasn’t seen since the Great Depression.
Initial jobless claims filed for the week ending March 21 reached nearly 3.3 million, by far the highest number ever since such records started being kept in 1967. The previous high was 695,000, filed for the week ending Oct. 2, 1982.
The Federal Reserve estimates the unemployment rate could hit 32 percent due to the virus and the business shutdowns imposed to slow its spread. The highest rate in the depths of the Depression, the one reflected in those pictures of bread lines you saw in your history books, was 24.9 percent. This could actually be worse, a possibility that’s all the more stunning when you consider that in the long, long ago days of February, the unemployment rate was 3.5 percent.
And as more people find themselves needing food assistance, there are fewer places offering it. At least 71 food pantries, more than 32 percent of those in the city, have shuttered already, according to Jilly Stephens, the CEO of City Harvest, the city’s largest food rescue organization. And the trend is only expected to continue.
“We could be only days away from the collapse of the food pantry system,” said David Greenfield, the CEO of Met Council New York City.
The two organizations are calling for the City Council to commit to $25 million in new spending to rescue food pantries, and therefore their increasing clientele. Another $25 million would come from the federal government. That’s a drop in the bucket considering the $2.2 trillion financial rescue package just passed by Congress and signed by President Trump ($2.2 trillion is nearly a hundred thousand times $25 million).
The United States has not dealt with anything like the coronavirus in nearly a century (the Spanish Flu of 1918-20 killed 675,000 people in the U.S., when our population was less than one-third of what it is now). This is an all-hands-on-deck situation. While the city, state and U.S. governments are the only entities with the resources to save our food pantries, every little bit helps in fighting hunger. Companies from mom-and-pop restaurants to grocery store chains are helping feed the needy, and we hope everyone gives whatever assistance he or she can afford.