For too many Americans, the last three Thanksgivings have been pretty lean. Our nation is suffering from the longest economic downturn since the Great Depression. Particularly worrisome is an online survey by The Enumclaw Courier-Herald that found two out of three people believe the true spirit of Thanksgiving has been forgotten. That is discouraging.
There is plenty of depressing news these days to justify that attitude.
One in 10 workers is drawing unemployment and, when you add the number of people whose unemployment benefits have been exhausted or who have given up looking for work, the figure is nearly one in five.
Our debt-ridden federal, state and local governments are not in a position to swoop in and save the day.
Our national debt continues to skyrocket, and our federal government is borrowing money at record rates from countries like China. In fact, David Walker, comptroller general under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, says if we don’t change our ways, in 2040 our entire federal budget will go to paying just the interest on our national debt.
Particularly troubling is the fact that federal taxes are poised to increase next year. The Bush tax cuts are set to expire and the death tax returns to its 2001 level, where grieving relatives must pay more than half the value of the family business or farm to the federal tax collector.
States like Washington are between a rock and a hard spot. Unlike the feds, we can’t print money or borrow from China. When the Legislature comes to Olympia in January, it faces a $5.7 billion deficit. That’s like a family facing rising household expenses with 18 percent less money in the bank.
So how do we get out of this funk?
First, we must stop looking to government to save us. Federal bailouts are short-term fixes that don’t solve the problem. As workers in the Tri-Cities are beginning to realize, a year from now the $1.9 billion from the feds to speed up the Hanford nuclear reservation clean up disappears, along with more than 1,300 jobs.
Second, we need to bring back the Thanksgiving spirit. We must remember that the first Thanksgiving – in Plymouth, Mass. in 1621 – was a time when pilgrims and Native Americans gathered to share the bountiful harvest and give thanks.
Today, there are many examples of communities, churches and people coming together in that same spirit of sharing and helping.
For example, Sallie DeBoer formed Network Ministry in Sammamish to give homeless people “a hand up, not a handout.” Network Ministry depends on people in the community to donate cars, furniture, housing and other essentials and doesn’t rely on government funding.
In Vancouver, Marie Ferderer, a long-time parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, is collecting 700 pairs of gloves for the homeless who come to an over flow homeless shelter at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. A network of parishioners of different faiths open the doors of St. Paul’s during the cold fall and winter months to provide a meal, a shower, a bed and warm clothes – again without government assistance.
Many people are filling food baskets during the holidays and many businesses, schools, hospitals, churches and union halls have erected giving trees. The U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program is also underway. All are worthwhile projects we can be thankful for.
The key to turning this funk into a positive spirit of hope is to return to the principle of neighbor helping neighbor, and realize that we are stronger for it – as individuals and as a nation.
Don Brunell is the president of the Association of Washington Business.