Brother, Can You Spare a Job?
'California Comeback!' is the favorite slogan of Gov. Jerry Brown and other Sacramento politicians cheering a temporary budget surplus provided by a roaring stock market. But California also has the highest poverty rate in America at 24%. Is California really back?
I wanted to see firsthand what that comeback looks like for many Californians. So, on the morning of July 21 I took a Greyhound bus from Los Angeles to Fresno. With only $40 in my pocket (and no credit cards), a backpack, a change of clothes and a toothbrush, I planned to find a job and earn enough money to get by. I am an able-bodied 41-year-old. Surely I could find some work.
Over the next seven days, I walked mile after mile in 100-degree heat searching for a job. I offered to do anything: wash dishes, sweep floors, pack boxes, cook meals, anything. I went to dozens of businesses in search of work but wasn't able to get any. In seven days, I didn't see a single 'Help Wanted' sign, but I did see plenty of signs that fast-food outlets now accept food stamps.
I was committed to finding a job. It was my top priority, but halfway through the week my priority was forced to change: I barely had any money left and needed to find food. Fortunately, kindhearted homeless residents in Fresno pointed me to a shelter, Poverello House, which provides services to the homeless. I had no choice but to join the hundreds of men, women and families who go to the shelter for food. As the shelter did not have any beds for me I slept on the streets all six nights. I had only one shower during that time.
The meals at Poverello House were a Godsend. But they introduced a new challenge: I now needed to stay within a short walk of the shelter so I could be back in time for my next meal. I had only enough money left to take the city bus once, so my job-search area shrank. The odds of me finding a job were getting smaller by the day.
Since I had little money, a motel was out of the question. I tried to sleep on park benches or in parking lots. Anywhere I wouldn't be chased out. Night after night, however, I was woken up and told to move along by security guards or the police.
The people I met during my week in Fresno are proud. They don't want to be homeless. They don't want to be poor. They don't want to depend on a shelter or the state. Most want jobs but simply cannot find one.
But this poor job market doesn't just affect people seeking minimum-wage jobs; it also affects people up the education ladder. An educated, professionally trained photographer told me that when the economy faltered, his photography work dried up. Now he is grateful to have a job serving coffee. Unfortunately, stories similar to his are playing out in many cities across California.
The Fresno Community Food Bank is doing a record business these days, serving food to 220,000 residents, including 90,000 children, each month, up 340% from a few years ago, according to the food bank. Fresno is in the heart of California's agriculture economy. With a third year of record drought, farmers don't have enough water for their almond, cantaloupe and other crops. The rising cost of water had forced farmers to idle about 500,000 acres of land. One young woman in line at the food bank said it simply: 'There's not enough water. Crops can't be grown. My family works in the fields and they can't get work every day... sometimes just on weekends.'
弗雷斯诺社区食物银行(Fresno Community Food Bank)的数据显示，该机构目前的救济规模创下纪录，每月向220,000位居民提供食物，其中包括90,000名儿童，较几年前增加340%。弗雷斯诺是加州农业经济的核心，连续三年的干旱导致农民无法获得足够的水用于灌溉杏树、蜜瓜和其他作物。不断攀升的水成本迫使农户将大约50万英亩土地闲置。一位正在食物银行排队的年轻女性直白地说：没有充足的水源，庄稼无法生长，我的家庭成员全部务农，而他们现在每天无事可做……有时只在周末才有活干。
I walked for hours and hours in search of a job, giving me a lot of time to think. Five days into my search, hungry, tired and hot, I asked myself: What would solve my problems? Food stamps? Welfare? An increased minimum wage?
No. I needed a job. Period. Like others, I have often said the best social program in the world is a good job. Even though my homeless trek was only for a week, with a defined endpoint, that statement became much more real for me. A job was the one thing that could have solved my food, housing and transportation problems.
California's record poverty is man-made: over-regulation and over-taxation that drive jobs out of state, failing schools that don't prepare students for the skilled work force and misguided water policies that prevent us from saving surplus water in wet years to prepare for our inevitable droughts. We have the power to tackle poverty if we implement smart, pro-growth economic policies, as many other states have done.
While the politicians who run California pat themselves on the back and claim a 'California Comeback,' they willfully ignore millions of our neighbors who are living in poverty. California's most vulnerable citizens deserve leaders who will fight for them. It's a fight that Republicans should lead. We have the policy ideas--improving education and reducing regulations to help create jobs--to rebuild the middle class and give every Californian, and every American, real economic opportunity.