As we head into this Thanksgiving holiday, I am writing to say thank you.
You have given us hope that this country can be strong and successful again. It is sometimes hard to imagine, sitting here in the high desert of California, literally in the middle of nowhere.
I am a former CIA officer. I am now a mom of two small children, an author and small business owner. My husband is a public school teacher who has taught in several states. We currently find ourselves in California, solely because teacher salaries are higher here than in other states.
This summer we traveled by car across the country from southern California to northern New York. I was inspired to write you as we drove through each state noticing the growth and expansion that is occurring almost everywhere. I say almost—the exceptions were California and New York. From Nevada to Utah on through Wyoming and Nebraska, construction was going up everywhere. New housing as well as large business construction dotted the landscape everywhere we looked. We also noticed “Help Wanted” signs in the windows of many businesses. It was simply impossible to miss the explosion of new growth in most states.
Glaring exceptions could be found in the states of California, Illinois and New York. The roads were also the worst in those states.
As I spoke with people in each state we visited I noticed some recurring themes. In Iowa, every person I spoke with mentioned health insurance. In New York we discussed public education and the lack of early child care or public preschool. These were all hard-working people —families with children— the true American family.
Returning from the booming growth in Utah and Nevada, crossing the border into California we were almost immediately struck by the difference. It’s not that all of California appears neglected and depressed, it’s that the disparity between the affluent parts of California and the poor parts of California is so incredibly large. The “middle class” seems almost non-existent in California. The working class, struggling to get ahead practically clawing their way to “middle class,” seems to be teetering on the edge of poverty.
Here in the high desert of California, more times than not, I encounter people living hard lives. The men work shift jobs often keeping them away from their families at night and sleeping during the day. The women sacrifice their ambitions to take care of small children, not yet old enough for school and with no public preschool options. Money is tight. It feels as if I have been transported back in time, or perhaps to a different country—certainly not the United States of America in which I grew up.
I attended high school and college in California. Now in our mid-forties, most of my friends from this period of my life are renting homes—they have not been able to buy their own home. They are quickly becoming priced out of the rental market here in the state. All of them are employed, even have high-paying jobs, but they are on the verge of homelessness. Clearly they are not doing as well or better than their parents did. Many are now considering moving out of California, to Washington, Oregon, Arizona or Nevada. The adventurous might go as far as Texas. Some of them cannot imagine living anywhere else, and they most likely will not venture outside of California, even as they see their quality of life deteriorate day by day, year by year. They hold on to the belief that it could not possibly be better in another state.
I have lived in other states. There is a better life out there. I have experienced more racial harmony in the southern United States than I have ever seen in California. I have seen a family of four making $75,000 a year buy their first home, a beautiful, large single family home with a huge yard for the kids to play in. I have seen doctor’s offices that are not completely overburdened by patients to the point that one must wait three hours past their scheduled appointment time to see the doctor. I have seen neighborhoods that have consistent electrical power and fast, reliable Internet despite real and volatile weather events. I have seen roads that are smoothly paved and not a danger to drivers, despite yearly snow, ice and salt. I have seen choices on the ballot available from differing parties, giving citizens the option to attempt to change the status quo.
I have not seen any of these things in California.
Thank you, Mr. President. We need you.