American families need more than alleviation of pandemic effects
Stephen Ndegwa
Volunteers waits to assist people with their vaccination appointments at a clinic in Los Angeles, California, April 10, 2021. /Getty

Volunteers waits to assist people with their vaccination appointments at a clinic in Los Angeles, California, April 10, 2021. /Getty

Editor's note: Stephen Ndegwa is a Nairobi-based communication expert, scholar and lecturer at the United States International University-Africa, author and international affairs columnist. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

There is no doubt about it; U.S. President Joe Biden is a family man. Indeed, this is one of the reasons that endeared him to the American electorate. The Democratic Party correctly portrayed him as a safe pair of hands, particularly on account of his unfortunate experience following the passing on of his first wife and daughter during their young marriage.

Biden rose above the adversity and has one of the most exemplary careers in public office. He has also stood with his son Hunter Biden amid the latter's alleged scandals involving money and drugs that almost sucked his father and threatened to damage his rising political star. Basically, Biden has striven to preserve the integrity and well-being of his family.

Therefore, it is only natural that he would think about the welfare of American families, more so at this time when COVID-19 has devastated social and economic institutions on a massive scale.

Following the president's signing of the American Rescue Plan on March 11, 2021 the U.S. government on April 28 announced the American Families Plan, which a White House statement said is an "an investment in our kids, our families, and our economic future."

According to the White House press release, the estimated 161 million stimulus payments of $1,400 per person have gone to households, schools reopening and vaccine administration. Biden's dedicated family plan promises four years of free education, direct support to children and families and various policy and infrastructural investments in the education ecosystem from pre-school level to college level.

The president is also looking at helping American families directly with child care support, paid leave, nutrition, unemployment insurance reform and, tax reforms and tax cuts. No one can argue with the fact that these measures are comprehensive.

However, on the flip side, Biden's new over-ambitious plan also sounds a bit too idealistic. It reads more like an electoral campaign pledge than what is realistically possible and practical within the short to medium term.

Experts say much of Biden's family plan, while paved with good intentions, is like throwing good money after bad. Lumping together all families in the country assumes that they are at par socially and economically, which is definitely the opposite of the status quo.

The problems of families in America are deeply embedded in the historical and systemic racism and attendant injustices and inequalities that have in recent years become evident and brought to the fore by the coronavirus pandemic. Consequently, any attempts aimed at alleviating the suffering of families must address these issues from their root causes.

Protesters gather in Columbus Circle during a march against racism and inequality in the theater industry in New York City, April 22, 2021. /Getty

Protesters gather in Columbus Circle during a march against racism and inequality in the theater industry in New York City, April 22, 2021. /Getty

Healthwise, COVID-19 has exposed the inequalities in access and quality. Black Americans have been hardest hit by the pandemic, with this group being three times more likely to be infected than white Americans. This reflects in the number of casualties too, with those affected comprising heads of families.

A study of the Black-white wealth gap published on February 26, 2020 found "staggering racial disparities." The report says that the net worth of a typical white family in 2016 was almost ten times more than that of a black family at $171,000 and $17,150, respectively. Economists say that repairing this disparity requires long term, sustainable programs and not the stop-gap measures that the current rescue plan offers.

Even as Biden was upbeat about the resuscitation of the U.S. economy and the emerging employment opportunities, majority of the high paying jobs will be gobbled up by white Americans, leaving members of the Black community and other minorities to share the rest of the low paying opportunities.

Just like in health provision, the major reason for this is the skewed and unfriendly education system available to the minorities due to structural and financial barriers.

The drugs menace, which includes substance and alcohol abuse, is another malaise that inordinately plagues American families. Data from the American Addiction Centers shows that drug abuse and addiction cost the American society more than $740 billion annually in lost workplace productivity, healthcare expenses and crime-related costs.

But there are no commensurate rehabilitation programs that can handle the magnitude of this problem. Critics point to the fact that the lack of passion to conclusively deal with the drug problem in America is simply one of the strategies that the U.S. state uses to perpetuate the self-destruction of non-white communities.

The litany of woes would be incomplete without mentioning the dire effects of violence and crime faced by American families. Currently, gun violence has spiraled out of control. These twin vices have torn thousands of American families apart, leaving very deep physical, emotional and psychological scars. Again, much of the crime occurs in the black and other marginalized communities.

Clearly, American society is not a homogeneous family unit. It consists of highly unequal demographics with skewed access to resources and opportunities that Biden can only lay the foundation of remedy for subsequent administrations.

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