It can’t be denied: California has a serious homeless problem. It’s a blight on a state that was in many ways the emblem of American prosperity, and it’s symptomatic of a decaying culture. As is always the case when times get rough, fingers are being pointed. “You did this,” they say, but few can articulate why their enemies are guilty.
The denizens of the hinterland like to imagine that California has been ruined by radical communists like Nancy Pelosi. In their alternate reality, as best as I can glean, left coasters became too accustomed to “free stuff,” so they stopped working and got hooked on heroin. The state also opened up its borders, they imagine, to immigrants and gave them all free healthcare. The cost of healthcare in Mexico is a small fraction of what it is in the US, but people were so drawn to the “free” variety, they uprooted their lives and moved to a foreign country where they don’t speak the language, the police are militarized, and housing is four to twenty times more expensive. That must be some damn fine healthcare.
But let’s temporarily move on from this talk of brown folk moving to America to take advantage to its almost nonexistent social safety net and look at the facts. Is California socialist? Well, it does have an expanded Medicaid system, and illegal immigrants between the ages of 19 and 25 qualify. This is most likely because Californian politicians take money from businesses that need more healthy young men who are willing to work for low wages. If you live outside that 6 year age range, it’s the same as if you were in Alabama. California doesn’t have single-payer healthcare and is the most expensive place to attend college in the world. It doesn’t hand out cash to the unemployed (a talking point that is debunked by the prevalence of homelessness). In fact, there are only three counties in the US where a recipient of unemployment benefits can afford to rent a home, and, I promise you, non of them are anywhere near California. Unemployment benefits may net you a tent in LA, provided it isn’t in one of the more posh tent cities. Californians working full-time at minimum wage cannot even come close to affording a one-bedroom apartment. If it’s socialism you’re looking for, you can do way better than California.
Now let’s push the right-wing propaganda aside and take an honest look at the homeless crisis. The median home price in California now tops $600,000, more than twice the national level. The tech giants, which the government has helped to grow to near monopoly status, have led to an influx of high-skill jobs in the state. These upper middle-class techies are helping to price out the former middle class, who now find themselves with comparatively low incomes. Income inequality in America used to be comparable to other develop nations, but is now looking decidedly third-world.
In fact, income inequality is at its worst point in US history. The stock market is rising, and home prices are rising along with it, but wages are stagnant.
To make matters worse, there is now an exploding upper middle-class in China who have no faith in their country’s banking system and currency. So where should they keep their money? Why, invest in American real estate of course. So now we have the demand for housing going up even more, but many buyers don’t even plan to live in their new properties, just to use them like banks. Selling properties to foreign inverters so they can flip them in twenty years is not the classical definition of ‘socialism.’ To be fair, this is not only a China-to-California problem; it’s also a problem in places like Australia and Canada. And buyers are also coming from places like Russia and India.
We also cannot ignore the increasing rates of depression, mental illness and drug addiction that are often associated with nations in decline. The growing sense of alienation among average Americans is under reported. It manifests in the opioid crisis, social absurdities like the incel movement, and, yes, homelessness, but few want to address the core problem, the rot in society.
There’s an old saying that I just made up: ‘the Hoovervilles tell you it’s about to collapse.’ California is a peek into the dystopia of late-stage capitalism, and it’s coming to a city near you. Unless we turn this train around, it’s only going to get worse.