By Scott Remer, In These Times
In 1770, the novelist Oliver Goldsmith observed, “Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, where wealth accumulates, and men decay.” Modernize the language, and he could have been writing about the situation in the United States today.
The pandemic has exacerbated a debt epidemic that’s been festering for decades. Some Covid-19 patients have racked up astronomical medical bills which often run into the thousands of dollars, as many are dismayed to discover. Uninsured patients and family members, meanwhile, are often being wrongly charged, even though the CARES Act theoretically covers uninsured patients’ Covid bills. While $1,200 stimulus checks temporarily improved many workers’ financial situations in the spring, now close to 8 million people have fallen into poverty.
Layoffs and cutbacks in work hours and paychecks are decimating working peoples’ budgets, provoking an unprecedented spike in hunger, especially among children. Around 26 million people now don’t have enough food. Widespread income reductions are also forcing people to withhold utility payments and rent: 12 million renters will owe an average of $5,850 in back rent and utilities by the beginning of 2021. This back rent is a ticking time bomb: it threatens to create a wave of evictions and homelessness after the federal eviction moratorium expires on December 31.
Small businesses are struggling, and many are on the brink of closure. All this even as America’s billionaires have swollen their fortunes by $931 billion since March. It’s a grim picture. As we grope toward a post-Covid future, the disastrous economic situation for millions of working-class people — and billionaires’ continued enrichment at their expense — demands a radical solution: universal debt forgiveness for rent, medical debt, and student loans. The federal government holds immense power and could immediately forgive public student loan debt and pay off all other debts, giving ordinary Americans a chance to start fresh. This debt relief could easily be funded by wealth and income taxes on the rich.