30 years ago, there were no huge homeless encampments in Berkeley, Oakland, or San Francisco. Now, thousands of people live in them, and they are getting bigger all the time. A lot of people are baffled by this, but the explanation seems obvious to me. The number of extremely poor people in the U.S. has exploded over the past 30 years. The real inflation-adjusted income of the average American has been declining since the 1970s. The minimum wage adjusted for inflation has fallen by over 25% since 1970. For reasons that I don’t understand, very few people make a mental connection between the declining income of poor and middle class Americans and the rise in homelessness.

In 1960, the largest private employer in the United States was General Motors. The average non-managerial employee at GM made $25.00 an hour, adjusted for inflation. Like most unionized industrial workers of the time, GM employees also got a generous fringe benefits package.

Today, in 2017, the largest private employer in the United States is Walmart. The average non-managerial employee at Walmart makes $9.15 an hour, and with relatively few fringe benefits.

When I see people working at Starbucks and Walgreens here in Berkeley, I sometimes wonder: “Where do these people live?” These people make $11 to $14 an hour, and a 1 bedroom apartment in Berkeley costs $2,000 to $3,000 a month. So where do these people live? In a city where the average 1 bedroom apartment costs over $2,000 a month, where can a person who makes $13 an hour live besides a tent, a friend’s garage, or the back seat of a car? What I can’t understand is why so few politicians and TV commentators see any connection at all between rising poverty and rising homelessness. The connection seems very obvious to me. What am I missing?


Here’s an example of how the lives of poor people are becoming even poorer in America. Our national parks were intended to be places that anyone could go to. The poor as well as the rich could visit a national park. Things were different in Europe, where the most beautiful places and scenic vistas were made royal estates, available only to aristocrats and their friends. Last week, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that the price of admission to Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Glacier, Yellowstone, and many other national parks will be going up from $25 now to $70 next year. This story didn’t get a lot of publicity, but I think it should have. For a lot of people, $70 is a lot of money. $70 is more than a whole day’s take-home pay for somebody working at minimum wage. Obviously, far fewer poor people will be able to go to a national park once it costs $70 to get in. I think that’s sad. Don’t you?

Drive-Through Trees. A Real Tourist Trap.

DriveThroughTreeIf you want to visit a real tourist trap, you can’t beat a drive-through tree. I have never been to a drive-through tree myself, so maybe I am prejudiced about this. There are a number of drive-through trees in northern California. All of these trees are either giant redwoods or sequoias. There used to be a famous drive-through sequoia in Yosemite National Park, but that tree fell over in 1969. They didn’t replace it so there are no more drive-through trees in state or national parks. My father told me that he thought that the Yosemite drive-through tree was the stupidest tourist attraction in California. All the drive-through trees in California are now on private land, and all of them are in remote locations. None of them is near a big city. Cutting a hole in a tree big enough for a car to drive through will eventually kill the tree, so places with drive-through trees have to periodically change the tree that people drive through. The way these places work is pretty simple – you pay a fee and then drive through a tree. After you drive through the tree, you done. That’s it. You’re finished. There is usually nothing else to do at these places, aside from buying souvenirs at the gift shop, and there is always a gift shop next to a drive-through tree. Now if that isn’t a tourist trap, what is?! If you decide to visit a drive-through tree, be prepared to wait. In summer, you might have to wait for up to an hour to drive your car through the tree. That is because everyone who drives through a drive-through tree stops their car inside the tree to take photos.