Markets weren’t exactly “euphoric” after Congress managed to pass what the media characterized as “the second-biggest economic rescue package in US history.”
That characterization (the quote is from Bloomberg, but some version of that language was strewn across the financial pages Tuesday) is technically accurate, but it belies the legislation’s myriad inadequacies and the extraordinarily fraught nature of the negotiations, which lasted five agonizing months.
Over that period, Americans died and starved. That’s both hyperbolic and accurate simultaneously. I could have couched it in more diplomatic terms, but how diplomatic are struggling Americans supposed to be when, as discussed here over the weekend, the country essentially has no functioning legislature?
Although I made a show of chiding Senator Pat Toomey, whose last minute haggling over the Fed’s emergency powers very nearly forced a government shutdown, the fact is, gridlock has persisted for months. And, as I’ve been at pains to explain, “gridlock” is now to be taken almost literally. The legislative process is suffering from near paralysis.
“Experimental” data gathered by the Census Bureau for the past several months sheds some light on the effects of the pandemic on American households. I’ve never pretended to provide a definitive (or even a trenchant) take on the “Pulse Survey” figures, but what I have done, occasionally, is produce simple visuals based on some of the publicly available tables. The figure (below) is one such visual. It carries a bombastic header, but again, I think bombast is appropriate considering the circumstances.
What, exactly, does that chart show? Well, it’s self-explanatory to a certain extent, but in the interest of full transparency, let me be as specific as possible.
The data is from the “Food Sufficiency and Food Security” tables of the Census Bureau’s “Pulse Survey.” There are five types of data sets in that category. One of them is “Food Sufficiency For Households with Children, Prior to Coronavirus Pandemic.” Another, related category, is “Food Sufficiency for Households with Children, in the Last 7 Days.” Those are the tables used to construct the figure above. The “Prior to March 13, 2020” numbers are from the “Week 20” readout, covering the period from November 25 to December 7. The August 19 to August 31 data represents the “Week 13” vintage of the survey.
What sticks out is that from August (the month when provisions under the previous stimulus bill began to lapse) until December (when Congress began to get serious about passing legislation in the lame duck session), the nationwide totals for the categories “Sometimes not enough to eat” and “Often not enough to eat” for households with children rose from 9,349,988 and 2,709,344 to 10,558,819 and 3,747,815, respectively.
So, the increase in food scarcity for households with children from time the last stimulus bill lapsed until this month, was 2,247,302.
I used the “with Children” data sets to make a point. The total for food scarcity among all households in the survey data during Week 20 was 27,380,060. That figure was 22,365,212 during Week 13. The increase in total food scarcity for households over the period was thus 5,014,848.
The figure (below) shows you the evolution of the nationwide picture over the relevant period.
Note that the total food scarcity figure actually peaked in Week 12 of the survey, but, as alluded to above, it’s somewhat difficult to get a firm grasp on this data. The Census Bureau breaks it down into three “phases” with “Phase 1” covering the onset of the pandemic through the end of July, “Phase 2” covering August through the beginning of October, and “Phase 3” starting on the week ending November 9.
Whatever the case, the point is that things deteriorated while Congress bickered. And it wasn’t just that Americans starved by the millions. They also died by the tens of thousands, ultimately summing to ~160,000 additional COVID-19 deaths over the course of the five-month stimulus delay.
It’s obviously impossible to say how much of the suffering illustrated above would have been alleviated had stimulus been delivered sooner. Maybe the answer is “not much.” Or maybe the answer is “quite a bit.” We don’t know. But we do know federal assistance wouldn’t have hurt.
I’ve variously characterized the last six months as the one of the most spectacular failures of government in modern US history. Regular readers have heard that from me repeatedly.
That assessment is apparently self-evident to a lot of folks. For example, in a piece published Tuesday, Bloomberg quoted historian Robert Dallek, who called this situation “a glaring failure of leadership.” He was referring to Donald Trump, but it applies across the board.
Lawmakers’ brinksmanship meant that nobody actually had a chance to read the bill, which included the broader spending legislation. It came in at 5,593 pages. On Monday, as Congress was struggling to limp over the finish line, a computer glitch stalled the process. “They can’t get the bill uploaded to the internet,” Politico‘s Jake Sherman remarked. “The computers keep bugging out,” he added, noting that there was a corrupt file in the education piece of the bill.
“They can’t ‘right-click’ and ‘combine pdf?'”, one netizen called “TabbyCat (Megan)” wondered, while responding to Sherman. “Is there only one copy of the file?” she went on to ask. “So many questions.”
That, folks, is the state of America’s government.