America’s Refugee Crisis: On Its Way

Syrian refugees in a camp in Turkey proclaim their reverence for the Koran being held aloft, and their hatred for Syrian dictator Hafez Assad. (Photo by Freedom House/Flickr)

Syrian refugees in a camp in Turkey proclaim their reverence for the Koran being held aloft, and their hatred for Syrian dictator Hafez Assad. (Photo by Freedom House/Flickr)

Hideous choices now urgently confront the countries of Europe as they flounder in deep waters, borne down toward drowning by the inexorably growing weight of human misery cascading into and over them from Africa and Asia. Solutions are not even imaginable, especially when so few recognize the root causes. [See “The Choice Worse than Sophie’s,” “A Tsunami of Climate Refugees is Drowning Europe.”] What even fewer will admit is that a refugee crisis of similar intensity is coming to America. In a sense, it is already here.

The refugee crisis now gestating in the United States is not one of desperate brown people pouring over our southern border,

nor even of desperate snow bunnies crashing our northern boundary, although one of the candidates for Captain of the Titanic thinks we should consider a wall on the Canadian border. The people who will constitute our next tsunami of misery, its like not seen since the days of the Dust Bowl, are citizens, already here, their misery steadily approaching the intolerable. Soon, because they have to, they will start to move.

If you want to count them, get to know them, begin with the 94 million people who have vanished from the American work force. Each month, the don’t-worry-be-happy bean counters of our government report, as they just did for August, the “creation” of a robust 173,000 jobs, resulting in a healthy contraction of the unemployment rate — the proportion of those who do not have jobs compared with those who are available for work — of 5.1%. The economy is coming back! It’s morning in America!

Except that while 173,000 jobs became available, 251,000 adults left the labor force. A minority of them retired, or went to school, but for most of them the move was not voluntary. Their unemployment benefits ran out, they are too discouraged and broke to continue the fruitless duplication of resumes, and so, by government definition, they have vanished from the pool of potentially available workers. They are un-people now.

There are 94 million of them. Their number has increased by nearly two million in one year; by almost 15 million since the last good year, 2007.

I met one of the non-people a while ago, gave him a ride to town, seven miles from his trailer home. For months he had been walking there — he could not afford to license his ancient pickup truck — every single weekday, looking for work. He had been a heavy equipment operator in construction, but has not had a regular job in seven years. He has no front teeth because he could not afford the root canals that would have saved them. His wife is ill, and while that does bring them a disability pittance once a month, they experience hunger every month. One of their close friends and neighbors takes her to medical appointments, and grocery shopping, when necessary — and charges her $30 for the favor. I came to know him as a good, reliable and knowledgeable worker. His desperation has not yet turned to anger. Not yet.

Did I mention there are at least 94 million of him?

People who “vanish” from the labor pool, and/or become homeless, mail-deprived and often phoneless, often become invisible as well to the agencies and institutions that are designed to help them. A recent book documenting the lack of a safety net for such people identified 1.5 million households, inhabited by 3 million children, whose total cash income per person per day during 2011, including public assistance, was no more than $2. For those disconnected from the job market, the authors say, there is virtually no help.

Then there is the thing we in America share with all the countries of North Africa, the Middle East and Asia whose people are now crashing into Europe: growing, spreading, intensifying drought. The western third of the United States is experiencing the worst drought in a millennium, and a consequent water crisis worse than anything in our history. Large agricultural areas (California’s Central Valley, to name just one) and some major cities (Las Vegas and Phoenix, to start) are seeing the water supplies that make them habitable vanish. When the water is gone, like the farmers of Syria after 85% of their animals dies of thirst, the population of these places will start to move.

Where are you going to build that fence, Donald?  


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14 Responses to America’s Refugee Crisis: On Its Way

  1. Steven says:

    Great post. :)

  2. Tom says:

    Yes indeed Mr. Lewis – no one (in the government) pays any attention to the growing list of non-people: who have no means of income (now that the dole has run its course), many are homeless, few can afford health “care” and many are dying a slow torturous death of neglect, starvation and invisibility. It’s getting bad all over. Add to that, too many of today’s youth who are saddled with impossible-to -repay college debt via menial jobs that are disappearing (having trained for jobs that no longer exist or have been since taken over by robots).

    This is expected with the collapse of the world’s economic system, continuing ecological degradation, and climate change affects – one of which is the on-going 6th mass extinction that few want to believe, much less discuss.

    Every month we pass another mile marker on the way to oblivion. Enjoy the ride as long as you can.

  3. SomeoneInAsia says:

    French President Francois Hollande is now seriously contemplating the prospect of bombing Syria in response to the refugee crisis.

    Makes perfect sense if you ask me. If there are too many people who come to you asking for help and you’re unable to help them… then just get rid of them.

    Won’t surprise me if America decides to follow France’s example in dealing with her own teeming hordes of hungry, homeless citizens — perhaps by releasing some special designer disease and making it look like a naturally-occurring epidemic.

    But that’s morally reprehensible, you say? Well, with all our resources running dry, what morally commendable alternative can you offer?

    Such is the wonderful state of affairs we’ve arrived at. And the big joke here is that: (1) this wonderful state of affairs could have been avoided, had we listened to people like Malthus, Meadows, Ehrlich etc; (2) WE are ALL going to face the same shit as all those refugees in due course. (Okay, except for people like the Amish and the Yanomami.)


  4. “Where are you going to build that fence, Donald?”

    In the Refugee Survey, one of the respondents thinks The Donald will build a fence around every state.

    Tomorrow, I have a new Rant coming out on the Refugee Crisis. I will publish this article along with it.

    It’s refugee week on the Diner.


  5. Tom says:

    SIA: i don’t see how our predicament could have been avoided since we’re acting exactly like other biological species (that go extinct over time), only we’re worse because we kept by-passing natural limits to growth, and in the process destroyed the environment for ALL species – so now it’s our turn (and we’ll take most all life with us into the abyss).

    i thought about the Amish (up the road from where i live), who will be all right in the beginning, as they’ll just continue to operate their farms without electricity or fossil fuels (for the most part – i understand that some use propane and many use hydraulics like air compressors), but will eventually be over run by streaming hordes of starving, crazy people once it gets really bad. They aren’t violent, the rest of us are.

    • SomeoneInAsia says:

      You can believe what you like (shrugs). With all of us now headed for the giant shit-hole, I guess it’s not going to make any difference anymore.

      But if you ask for my views, then respectfully I beg to differ, and remain stubbornly committed to the view that we could have chosen not to embark on our current sorry path. After all, some of us did choose not to, such as the Amish. The Chinese and Japanese at first would have seriously chosen not to as well, if not for the intrusions of the West. (When you don’t have guns and cannons while others do, you lose out.)

      Just as most of the cells in an organism can behave normally but a couple can suddenly become cancerous and in time screw up the entire organism, so likewise most (well, at least some) human cultures can thrive sustainably in our planetary ecosystem but a couple of them can take a wrong turn and lead us all to our current plight.

      My two cents. Take or leave them.

  6. Speaking as a resident of California, what California is experiencing is not so much a drought as bad or nonexistent resource planning. California is a product of real estate boosterism and free market resource grabbing. If California’s inhabitants were primarily poor subsistence farmers then we might expect climate refugees any day now. But agriculture is a very small part of the California economy and an ongoing drought would primarily impact ag businesses depending on over-allocated water. Given that the ag industry uses 80 percent of California’s water, the non-ag majority population of California which consists not only of wage laborers but also of the majority of California’s tax generating industries may at some point demand that the ag industry’s water allocation be cut back to something more in line with their contribution to the overall economy.
    Whether the ag industry will roll over or fight to the death remains to be seen. But clearly, California’s water is over-allocated. Cutbacks on water use will happen, voluntarily and involuntarily. But I doubt if 30 million Californians will stop using water and leave the state so that some 6 million Californians can live a life based on irrigated desert agriculture.

    • Tom Lewis says:

      I don’t expect all Californians to become refugees. But the people of the Central Valley are going to have to go someplace pretty soon. That’s probably going to be the first domino.

  7. K-Dog says:

    I was one of the 94 million for several years. I managed to find an employer who values my professional skills about a year ago and crossed the line back to the ‘American Dream’. Good work, good pay, great bennies and I work with good people.

    I am fully aware that I am the exception not the rule. The job I have is unique and not a lot of people could be employed even doing what I do. In a city of millions there is only room for a few of us. Besides which, I had ’employable skills’. Government bean counters would claim that I should not have been unemployed at all. My profession is considered in ‘high demand’ by them because that is what employers tell them. Three years looking for work without success before finally being hooked up tells me their definition of high demand is very strange but employers claim my job is in high demand even though they don’t hire. The perennial claim of employers of having ‘not enough qualified workers’ is I find to be an argument used to justify foreign work visas, nothing more. Employers are always looking for a better deal regardless of how many people need work. Our craven government is more than happy to support the lie.

    I had not realised how depressed I had been but after ten months I’m finding my return to energy, health and happiness continues long after reaching the point of being able to pay bills and live ‘normally’. Part of my happiness is that sometimes I’m able to hire other people and give them work. Not full time work but short term work at good pay. Being able to help out others this way when I can makes me feel good, euphoric really, and I’d not feel that way at all had I not worn their shoes.

    My experience tells me that America is bifurcating into two cultures. The employed and the invisible wretched. Over and over I had run into interview situations where the first thing done was to establish how long I had been unemployed so as to establish which ‘culture’ I belonged in. Because I had been unemployed a long time I was usually classed among the wretched and flawed who surely must have something wrong with them or they would have found a job sooner and not be looking for work. That or I must not really want a job or I’d have found one sooner.

    Some employed people have a strange way of looking at work as an optional activity and not one necessary for survival. Not all are so monumentally deluded but many are. Enough to make you question the intelligence of our species. The result is that newly unemployed have a different experience looking for work than long term unemployed everything else being equal. Newly unemployed often find a job right away if their unemployment does not result from a massive downturn in the economy. But it is always risky now because too long unemployed and they join the ranks of the invisible wretched as I did.

    To make matters worse being unemployed for a long time depresses a person and employers always like to hire happy people who show zero sign of discontent. But long term unemployment shows on people regardless of their essential character thus perpetuating the cycle. A cycle which for most will have no end.

    • Tom Lewis says:

      This is one of the truest accounts of life in the new America that I have ever seen. Stunning in its clarity and honesty. Thank you. And good luck.

  8. I like the idea of a wall on the Canadian border. Not to keep Canadians out of the U.S. but to keep the Americans out of Canada when the migration starts. Kind of reminds me of Marx’s saying you can sell the rope to a capitalist for which they will hang themself.

    Not that we don’t like Americans at the personal level, but think about it! An unofficial unemployed population almost the same size as Canada and those that can afford bullets with way too many guns – and pissed off…

    Trump for POTUS now!!

  9. James Eberle says:

    We now have Untouchability in America, no different than the untouchability in India; a group of people numbering in the 10’s of millions who are expected to remain out of sight and out of mind. They are not even expected to vote, and if they try, obstacles will be placed in their way.

  10. daddio7 says:

    At least half of the population is going to have to move anyway. One way or another the oil flow is going to stop. We are going to need 100 million new farmers to grow enough food using just mules and hoes. These people will have to live on their farms. Jobs for everyone. Except me, I’m disabled on SS. I’ve already put in my 40 years of farming.