Several years ago my Dad said something rather prophetic during a family conversation about living in California. A few of us were expressing our reservations about ever moving to a state that was a couple dozen earthquakes away from falling into the ocean. He said “Californians are going to sink themselves long before earthquakes do.” He was referring to the housing market there, where lenders were handing out mortgages like candy. Of course many who followed the financial markets knew what was coming, the writing, as they say, was on the wall. But ordinary Americans were blissfully unaware and lenders liked it that way. The bubble unfortunately hasn’t burst in one catastrophic moment, it seems to be bursting in slow motion, the devastation mounting with each passing month.
As misfortunes pile into one another like the driving rains Hurricane Ike pushed across the country, I can’t help thinking about drought. Not just any drought but that man-made disaster called the Dust Bowl. There’s a sadly ironic parallel between Steinbeck’s depiction of cracked Oklahoma cornfields and the Midwest crops bloated by rain this summer.
75 years ago the Dust Bowl was a combination of drought, an agricultural market that forced farmers to overuse the land, and the Great Depression. Today it’s hurricanes, a housing market forcing people out of their homes, and an economic downward spiral that is seemingly out of control. Then the people fled for California in search of better opportunities, today they are fleeing the country’s southern coasts in search of higher ground.
While the Feds are busy bailing out giant lenders and their multi-millionaire CEOs, average Americans are moving out of their foreclosed homes and into tents on the outskirts of society. Social service agencies and shelters are unprepared for the onslaught of homeless Americans who have nowhere to go now that they’ve lost their homes. The freshly displaced have been turned out of homes and shelters; that should give the rest of us an idea of how dire the economic situation is in this country.
Now more than ever, it infuriates me when I hear someone criticize government spending on social services. We never hear anyone suggest scaling back on firefighters or policeman, these are protections that most feel are worth their tax dollars. So why can’t we see the benefit of preventing a family from having to live in a tent? Or protecting a home buyer from a predatory lender?
The truth is our population is destabilizing. A person living in a tent without adequate shelter from the elements, clean water and food is a person who may never climb out of poverty without help. If we want out nation to recover we’ve got to start from the bottom up, not the other way around.