I Hate It Here And Never Want To Leave
A Substack about a declining empire and why people stay.
There’s a lot to hate about the United States.
Working-class Americans are facing a societal and economic onslaught. They’re underpaid, buried in debt and without adequate healthcare. An impending climate catastrophe, a colossal student debt bubble nearing $2 trillion, a parasitic healthcare industry that leaves millions uninsured and critical, life-saving medicines out-of-reach, corporate and political elites stripping workers of rights and protections, landlords price gouging tenants, inflation reaching a 40-year high, a public education system that lags behind the rest of the developed world.
There’s a common refrain, I’m sure you’ve heard it. “Move where the jobs are.” “Just move if you don’t like it here.” “If you don’t like it, leave.” It takes many forms.
It’s just not that simple. Often times you can’t.
This Substack, I Hate It Here And Never Want To Leave, will explore that very dynamic. This feeling of desperation. Hopelessness. Frustration. Outright hatred toward our hometowns, jobs, this country. And why people, intentionally or unintentionally, stay where they are because sometimes even the slightest feeling of stability is enough.
There are more societal ills. Countless more. We’ll get into those in future pieces. But many of them ultimately pose the threat of social murder, which leaves people feeling helpless. At the helm is a paralysis-stricken Congress totally hollowed out by special interests, which means systemic change is unobtainable. They paper over the rot instead.
The problems will continue to fester, the suffering will worsen, and the divide will grow deeper as depression turns to despair. According to a 2019 study by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University, mortality rates have risen in 48 states since 2010, with the Rust Belt and Appalachia being the hardest hit.
The “distinctly American phenomenon,”—as described by the researchers in regards to the United States’ uniquely macabre situation—is so significant it actually contributed to a decline in American life expectancy after increasing the prior 57 years.
The researchers point to several root causes of these “deaths of despair,” with economic precarity and a lack of stable employment among them. Now, over 60% of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck--most of whom are unable to afford a $500 emergency--and no meaningful prospects that could lead to a way out or a better life. And while workers of all generations are impacted, the young working class feels a disproportionate amount of pain. The economic anxiety specifically plaguing the younger generations follows decades of financial deregulation paving the way for a robust economic boom for the wealthy elite and, as younger Americans understand far too well, a financial crash during which the middle class largely bore the brunt.
A 2016 study found that between 1993 and 2005, 98% of households across 25 developed countries experienced rising incomes but from 2005 to 2014 around 70% of households in those same countries experienced income stagnation or even falling wages. Still, productivity and the cost of living keeps steadily increasing. Inflation is now at a 40-year high, gas prices exceed $5 a gallon and the national median monthly asking rent is above $2,000, a 15% increase since this time last year. Wages are down 3% since May 2021.
Despite being the most educated generation, Millennials are poised to be the first generation worse off than their parents. Gen Z stands to be even better educated, and similarly penniless. These problems are of no fault of their own. Despite the warring generational factions, tongue-in-cheek memes ridiculing the older (and to many, greedier) generations, no rational person can look at the workforce and reasonably conclude Millennials and Gen Z aren’t trying hard enough to get ahead. In fact, we know they are. Millennials work longer hours than previous generations.
Beleaguered and subjugated to a world where they’ll likely be worse off than their parents, American workers are inundated by American exceptionalism and an onslaught of capitalist propaganda in corporate media and pop culture. Despite an overwhelming distrust of our institutions and a massively politically apathetic voter base, social and political coercion and persuasion is somewhat effective in convincing them that this is, in actuality, as good as it gets. That the grass certainly isn’t greener elsewhere. Systemic change is unrealistic. Unobtainable. Despite the rest of the developed world far exceeding the United States in quality of life. Many Americans inevitably become empathetic with and apologetic for their oppressors.
Workers are routinely encouraged to be a “team player” and companies love to lean into the “we’re a family” vernacular. This means they expect you to make sacrifices to avoid greater impacts to their bottom line. One Wal-Mart employee told me during the pandemic they were provided no hazard pay, no additional benefits, routinely felt unsafe and then as things started to turn around, were given a button that said “I Survived 2020.” That’s certainly one way of looking at it.
“A lot of folks don’t move, because they have ties to the community that go beyond employment. And they spiral into despair. There’s this talking point that people move to opportunity, and it’s just not true,” Mijin Cha, a professor at Occidental College and scholar on economic and political equality, told The New Republic, in March 2021.
Looming threats of climate change, deindustrialization, automation, digitization and outsourcing lead to transitions in the workforce that often force workers to choose between upending their lives and potentially fracture networks in order to attain new work elsewhere or stay where they are, with family and community bonds intact but possibly without sufficient employment.
Cha and her co-authors Vivian Price, Dimitris Stevis, and Todd E. Vachon with Maria Brescia-Weiler, detail these unjust transitions in a 2021 report for the Labor Network for Sustainability’s Just Transition Listening Project.
“The history of economic transitions in America is a history of injustice and failure. For the most part, in the face of economic change, working people have been abandoned by their employers and their government,” they write. “In each of these and many other situations, workers and communities have been treated as disposable.”
And so many of us, at our core, are conflicted.
People shouldn’t have to leave their community, their jobs, or even their country to stay afloat or find happiness. Engaging in a costly and time-consuming relocation process in the hopes of one day making ends meet is an unnecessarily burdensome remedy to a preventable problem. But staying put, in part to preserve family, social and community ties certainly doesn’t guarantee happiness either.
I Hate It Here And Never Want To Leave will analyze the threats of outsourcing, automation, tech monopolies with opaque and proprietary algorithms shaping public perception, global warming, predatory lending, a brutal for-profit healthcare system, stagnant wages, corporate greed and more. This Substack will examine and discuss their collective effects on the young working class and how economic and social precarity thrusts them into dependent relationships (with jobs, social systems, healthcare providers, social networks, etc.) that numb the pain and blind themselves to the horrors of modern American society.
This started as a book. Maybe it will be one day. Who knows. For now, however, essays, collected thoughts, conversations…that seems like the proper avenue. I hope you’ll subscribe.
Special thanks to Brendan Murphy and Counterparts for the title of this Substack.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Amistad/aamistad, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Having a child in the past year and trying to raise her and keep on top of paying for everything has been so demoralizing for my wife and me. My wife isn’t working because daycare is so expensive that 90% of her paycheck would go straight to paying for it. We’ve definitely discussed trying to move somewhere else but like you’ve discussed it’s such a difficult thing to do. Just living and surviving is so goddamn expensive. Shit sucks man.
🖤 I enjoyed reading this. Feels like I'm not as alone as I think sometimes. Please, keep sharing & writing.