Wednesday, July 1, 2009
July 1 is here. California is now officially off the precipice and plunging down to the rocks below. It's been a swell ride.
I'm a longtime Californian, though almost by accident, I was born in Iowa. My mother and her parents came to California from Indiana when she was only five. Before the US joined WWI. She always felt herself to be very deeply rooted in California, living in various parts of the state but always hooking up with salt of the earth, pioneering farm and ranch folk, people whose people had been here since the Gold Rush or just after, people close to the land, people for whom "newcomers" were a best a nuisance.
We lived on the coast near Santa Barbara when I was very little, but we were very poor, and we did not live well at all. We barely got by until I was five or so, and the hardships of earlier times are still with me in some odd way. I can remember things and places and people from when I was two or three years old, and even, it seems, before that, though how I would even have language to remember things with is hard to say. I can remember being in the backseat of the old Packard Clipper my mother drove hell-bent-for-leather out of Iowa and back to California when I was nine months old...
Being very poor and barely getting by in California in those days was a challenge, yes, but not an impossible one. There were no "programs." Well, actually, there might have been some, but I don't recall them if there were. We got by somehow, though in the process of getting by, my family, such as it was, was shattered to pieces and never entirely got itself back together.
And bit by bit, poverty was relieved. A relatively stable middle class life took the place of hard-scrabble "existence." The fact was that California had entered its most prosperous period, Post WWII, when everything seemed possible, indeed probable, and the whole state was being remade from top to bottom with finest public education system, the finest highway system, the finest water distribution system, the finest research and development resources, the finest... well, you name it, the Future was ours and it would be Grand! So even someone who started out very poor and disadvantaged could do well in California in time, and millions did.
And now it is all unravelling. Oh, my personal situation hasn't deteriorated too badly in the recession -- yet. But the signs are not good. It would not surprise me at all to learn that household income has peaked and is not likely to return to previous levels ever again. Potentially not even close.
For many millions of Californians, though, the situation is very rough and is about to get much rougher. I have no idea what sort of deal the legislature and the governor will eventually hammer out to address the growing deficit, and at this point, I doubt many Californians really care. The failure of California's government to deal with the crisis that has been apparent for more than a year now is frustrating to be sure. But the fact that they keep going round and round the same mulberry bush again and again and again, with apparently no consciousness nor any concern for what they are doing and the consequences of their actions (or inaction) on millions of people is revolting.
Millions of Californians are out of work, and many of them will never go back to work again. That's what I've been saying for months now, and what all the talk about the "Jobless Recovery" is confirming. Many of the jobs that have disappeared in this recession will never return. Many of the workers who used to have a steady income and could participate in the California/American Dream will never again do so. It is over. Fini. Kaput. And all the indications are that nothing is going to take its place.
Millions of poor Californians will shortly be faced with a stark choice: tough it out here with few or no resources, or leave. Imagine it, an outmigration from California to parts unknown, that will make the Dustbowl/Depression migration into California seem tame by comparison. Where is today's John Steinbeck to document this reversal of fate and fortune? So far, there isn't even an acknowledgement of what's in store.
Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of Mexicans and Central Americans have already left, the vast hordes of "illegales" brought in by the carload to build the miles and miles of suburban wastelands that crept inexorably over California during the Bubble but now being demolished forlorn and unsold, unsaleable.
Others are leaving, too. Not just the poor and dispossessed. California's jobless rate is officially pegged at 11.5% but it is much higher in many counties, and the official rate undercounts the unemployed by not including those who have given up looking, those who are underemployed, etc. Only half of those officially counted actually qualify for benefits, so there are many millions of Californians who have already faced a stark choice: stay and figuratively or literally starve on the streets, or leave and hope to find something better... somewhere. Pioneering spirits have already decamped for somewhere else.
Only, things are tough all over. There really isn't any place to go where things are particularly better.
The federal stimulus may be preventing things from getting worse, but there is no sign that is so. California is supposedly eligible for about $80 billion in stimulus funds, but there are no signs that the empolyment picture is improving (there are no jobs programs, after all, in the stimulus package), and California's government is going to wrack and ruin, effectively bankrupt, no matter the stimulus. I've said it is unconscionable that the federal government has played deaf, dumb and blind during this massive restructuring of California for the benefit of the rich and well connected, but there you are.
It seems to be going according to someone's plan.
Much like the Enron looting and disaster of some years back. Many of us could see quite clearly what was happening; nothing could be done, and when Gray Davis spoke out and tried to do something about it, the Hate Machine went into full gear and threw his skinny white ass out, replacing him with someone Orange and Waxy and -- we now know -- as fucked up, and not even remotely as genius, as Jim Morrison.
We stumble on through the Apocalypse.
Toward whatever the crabbed and forlorn Future holds.
It wasn't supposed to be this way....
[One day I should do a post on Jim Morrison. Don't tell me he isn't fucked up in this video, but fucked up as he is, he's still brilliant.]