Contrary to the title, I am not leaving California. However, in the past year I know at least four people very close to me who have left or are leaving California forever. It’s no surprise, but it’s very disheartening. Let me explain.
California has one of the highest costs of living in the entire United States. Currently we have 12% unemployment +/-. That is not a realistic picture of life here, though. I talked to an EDD (CA unemployment agency) member recently and he told me some dirty little secrets. These include the fact that EDD does not count anyone whose benefits have been cut off, people out of work for a year or longer (me included) or people who have been out of work so long that they have just given up. It also doesn’t take migrant workers, seasonal workers or day laborers into account. If those people caught the eye of EDD, the unemployment level would easily reach about 30% of the population of California. Look at that for one minute. Realistically, nearly one-third of the entire state is out of work. That is no small amount.
Back to leaving California. The last Census produced results that at least 1 in 8 Americans live in California. This number isn’t stable, however, as the population seems to be in a permanent state of transition. No matter; these people can come and go as they please; these are just the “legal” residents of this state. I don’t blame them for leaving, there’s not a whole lot of work here these days. Now I get to the leaving part.
I’ve had friends I’ve known since the 90’s. This is not a joke or exaggeration. We all grew up here as make-shift transplants and grew to become productive adults. Well, some of us did. Some of us, despite education or qualification, never caught the wave of the dot com boom. Some of us never got a footing in this economy. Some caught the dot com boom only to wipe out in the bust. All of us got sick having to look for the next contract as a part-time job. All of us wanted to be one of the chosen few who got rich. The majority of us got screwed as companies folded, jobs dried up, “investment properties” got foreclosed and life just got more expensive while work provided little to no benefits and no real livable income.
So, my friends left California. Rats always leave a ship before it sinks. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that we’re all struggling to stay afloat now. Well, everyone except Bank of America. We can’t continue to fight each other to the death over the few jobs that remain, and we don’t want to fight to survive on an income that, quite frankly, doesn’t pay the bills. Maybe California has become the land of the rich and famous. The rest of us suffer in silence or move on. I have never had a job that pays a living wage, provides benefits or offered any sort of health care. I won’t be young or even middle age long enough to make up the difference. All I can say is that I’m almost 40. I’m not getting any younger, smarter or more marketable. I can face a future of being homeless and eating cat food, or I can get out of Dodge.
As e.e. cummings once said, “Listen, there’s a hell of a good universe next door; let’s go.”