We were back in the U.S. after six years away. Here's some of what I saw.
I have a lot of thoughts about all of this, but on the subject of wages, I've been hearing that same thing a lot filtered down from national news sources. All I can say is that even *if* wages for lowest earners are going up (and though that's happened where I live because everyone is so desperately understaffed, it still has a laughably low ceiling), it cannot begin to compare to the astronomical cost of housing. To give just one example, I was at my town's Growth Policy Meeting a couple weeks ago, and our long-term planning staff gave some eye opening statistical conditions:
2007 median home price: $319,000
2023 median home price: $1,389,578 [this is not a typo]
2007 median rent: $477
2023 median rent: >$2000
2007 median income: $48,813
2023 median income: $67,550
When residents in or visitors to our town complain about cafes being closed and slow service, it's become a nightmare task for anyone to try to explain to them that it's not that people don't want to work, it's that nobody can afford to live anywhere near where work is available. My sister manages a small chain of local cafes and hands down it's housing that's the problem.
Quick thoughts: 75% pinned on Rump and republicans. Rest started back with that POS Reagan who tossed the entirety of the country’s mentally ill population on the streets. Two in a streak of f*cking idiot republican presidents. I may come back with some more thoughts.🙃
Hi, y'all. Doesn't surprise me.....any of it. My gay husband and I retired to our beloved Spain 8 years ago. Haven't been back to the US, except Jim had to go for a family thing for a week. Found it weird. We arrived in Spain in December of 2015......then .....Trump. And the Christo-fascists.....and that IS the accurate name for them. We barely speak to my (only brother), and Jim hasn't spoken to his (only) sister in over 2 years. (Both siblings are raving Repukes and "Christians"). We are 2 married gay liberal Democrats, don't suffer fools gladly, and at this age (late 70's) do NOT need ignorant bullshit and stupidity brought into our lives. (Never did, actually....but now...say so, UP FRONT AND IN YOUR FACE!)
We love Spain. We love our eclectic group of friends. We love our life. We have NO intention of EVER going back to the disunited states of dystopian bullshit, filled with self-righteous religious whackos and racists and homophobes. No, thank you. (All our parents are dead...thank god). Wine time! Besos from the Costa Blanca, Spain. Glorious, friendly, beautiful, civilized country. I'm fluent. Jimmy says, "Buenos dias, gracias, and Un vino blanco"......total vocabulary......and gets along just fine!
I've also noticed the social decline in the US -- on pretty much all fronts. As someone who worked in mental health 40 years ago, allowing the mentally ill to live on their own on the streets is not doing them -- or anyone-- a favor. As a teacher for over 35 years, I've become angrier and angrier ever time we've had to practice "lock down" drills. When did this become acceptable?
In terms of why does all this social decay and hate seem so prevalent in America, I wonder how the American ethos of personal freedom as a right trips us up. The countries in Asia that you mentioned, as well as in Latin America, have much stronger values of social good BEFORE personal good. There's something to be said for both values, we just seem to be very out of kilter now.
As an optimist, I'm waiting for the pendulum to swing back. It can't happen soon enough for me.
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This post is well-written, insightful, and depressing. Sometimes I look around and wonder what happened. Or if it’s always been this bad and I only woke up to it in 2016.
In response to your questions, Brent: All of the above. And then some. We might be fucked beyond repair.
Sad but I am not surprised. We used to live in Seattle, I grew up there actually. Now in Colorado in a small town, mostly unaffected by the problems you describe. It is such a multi faceted problem, the need for increased mental health care, The Defunding of Police, Family estrangement and loneliness. Single parent families. etc. You guys are on the right track living in Europe or Asia most of the time.
I agree things have been different the last couple years, in the sense of everyone being angry and impatient and suspicious. The cost of living is such that nobody can live. COVID definitely changed attitudes, the recent political climate has majorly contributed to high tensions and discord, and manipulation by social media algorithms is pitting different groups against each other. But the part about the mental health crisis and shady people in the streets, it's always been that way since I can remember in my adult life.
I lived a few years in NYC and Los Angeles and it was always like that. I adapted and hardened myself a bit. I saw it when visiting places like Denver and Seattle and Anchorage too. Then when I became a nomad, I visited cities in Europe and I remember thinking everything was so Pollyanna out there. Mary Poppins vibes, lol. When I'd see Europeans talking crap about Americans in funny social media posts, I would think "how cute" and not get offended because I know they wouldn't last one minute over here.
I went back to NYC and got an AirBnB for a month last year. Some of my roommates were from other countries, one guy was from London or Oxford or something. He came to NYC to take acting classes and thought it was going to be this cosmopolitan experience, but he was shocked by how dirty and creepy NYC is. I overheard him talking to friends back home on the phone and he told them how men on the street were catcalling his girlfriend, and he heard gunshots near the AirBnB. It seemed like he was having a real culture shock and it kind of confirmed my suspicions about how America is more grisly than other first world countries.
In my opinion, it’s not just the income inequality but the vast difference. There is the middle class earning about $100,000 per year, which comprises about 40% of the population, the uber wealthy making $1,000,000 + which comprises about 3% of the population and then the masses, 57% that are struggling to make ends meet, usually near or below the poverty line. The disparity is growing wider everyday. Money breeds money.
And the politicians are in the top 10%.
It’s truly a sad state in America. I am Canadian and I have a lot of relatives in the USA. I used to visit them frequently. But right now, I don’t want to step in that country. The Canadian government has given a travel advisory about caution regarding violence towards LGBTQ communities and gun violence. My two girlfriends were planning to travel across the continent, and though they are not LGBTQ, they are afraid to be mistaken as such. My relatives don’t speak to each other anymore. And we don’t want to walk into awkward situations. Conversations have been strained because of the political climate. It’s so sad. Families have been broken.
Been back to the U.S. for the summer also. See all the same problems. Why does the richest country in the world have lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, higher medical costs, higher poverty rates, and higher incarceration rates than most all of the world’s developed countries? This country is broken socially, economically, and politically and won’t be fixed anytime soon. At least religion, guns, and MAGA nuts are rampant in the “greatest country ever”. Looking forward to heading back abroad.
Very troubling post indeed. At first, I rankled when your said social breakdown was happening "everywhere in America." Really? Every little corner of the country where you may never have set foot? But as I read, I had to admit to myself that I've become reclusive, even though I live in a semi-rural county in a very rural state, Nevada. Californians are swarming over the hill ... at least it feels that way sometimes, because California is a textbook example of everything you mentioned. And the malaise is truly across the country. I dare say it's mostly in urban areas, but as urbanites seek shelter in rural places, the conflicts increase there. And yes, it saddens and puzzles me how racism in this country has thrived despite the racial progresses we hoped and seemed to make with the 60s Civil Rights Movements. Alas, this article truly saddens me.
I can’t comment on the policy side, but I can share that for someone who has taken the subway since I was 14, (I am more than double that age now), I will not ride the subways anymore because of the fear of crazy people pushing me into the tracks. Wages are not the reason people behave in sick and disturbing ways. I was in London, not once did I think that anyone would shove me into the tracks. I don’t know what is happening in America but the rise of addiction definitely concerns me as a parent
Excellent discussion. Your experience and impressions are right on. The US is in a period of serious decline. And in addition to what you have said, we are already in a cold civil war as exhibited by our dysfunctional federal legislature and now Supreme Court. So much to fix and we seem stuck in fixing it. Meanwhile scapegoating is increasing. And then there are the guns! Guess you weren’t exposed so much to the culture of open carry (for the whites only of course).
We have also spent a lot of time pondering the state of things since November of 2016.. to include a lot of this predates even that...
The best resource that I have found ie a glimmer of hope is this book: The Fourth Turning Is Here: What the Seasons of History Tell Us about How and When This Crisis Will End, by Neil Howe
LONG story short.. history doesn't repeat itself but it does rhyme - ie it is cyclical rather than linear as we pretend and expect it to be.. that every 80-100 ish years there are otherwise predictable patterns that repeat over x4 generations that complement and conflict internally with each other.. aaaaaand how that pattern affects the world around us.
The original book in 1997 was VERY prescient.. this is the 2023 update and HIGHLY recommended..!
Soooo we are in the 'Crisis' period right now.. probably another 7-10 years of this.. BUT we will emerge from that with a renewed and reforged civic bonds and national purpose as we enter a new 'High' period.. BUT then the cycle will repeat itself and...
It’s no surprise that your thoughtful post has generated such an in-depth discussion.
My “gap year” in Europe lasted four decades and I experienced similar feelings when we moved to Canada in 2018.
Europe isn’t immune to the issues either.
Back in the early 2000s, I made the comment that the more people with MBAs and business school degrees, the greater the economic challenge for many people.
It seems we’ve been educating people to make money for businesses instead of making businesses that provide value to people.
When my corporate career began, the number of people we employed was a measure of success. Today, the number of people a company fires can increase bonuses for the C-suite.
Maybe it’s not a great idea to look at people as “resources”, or “capital”. Companies have even lumped their personnel departments into procurement because they prefer contractors and unpaid interns...
How do we not see that for a society this won’t be a sustainable path to continued prosperity?
Really sobering but excellent post and discussion. It’s shocking how things have changed and how dark the national mood has become. Unless you’re one of the super rich it’s hard to make it and, if you are, your experience is so removed from those who are suffering that you’ve likely lost all perspective and, worse still, compassion. What worries me are the numbers of 20- and 30-somethings (including in my immediate family) who have given up on this country and made a life for themselves in Europe or Asia where they’ve discovered more affordable housing, better food, and a happier, safer (no guns!) existence. When they visit the U.S., they too are utterly shocked at what they see, and no amount of pleading will convince them to return. “Why don’t you move here?” they ask. It’s definitely tempting.