Brent E. Zepke
It seems natural for a family friend’s arm to be on a youth’s shoulders, extending a message of warmth at a family barbecue.
However, on a day in the summer of 1968, the arm did not belong to a family friend but to the manager of a textile mill. The large arm on my shoulders extended a message quite different from warmth to this 25-year-old who was no longer a “youth.”
The place was not a “family barbecue” but the hallway of a textile mill in McCormick, S.C. As the arm guided me down the long hall, his words hit my ear: “What do you want?”
My truthful words “I am from Clemson University and am here to help you” led to his words “Son, we don’t get many people here with New Jersey license plates” How did he know my license plate? His continuing with “I hope you enjoyed your salad at the café” gave me an eerie feeling.
With his arm slowly tightening, he continued, “The only three kinds of people we get here from up north in New Jersey are (1) union organizers, (2) revenuers and (3) integrationists, and son, we don’t like any of them.”
In a strange way my trip to McCormick was similar to Vice President Kamala Harris’s recent trip south to Guatemala and Mexico. I went to McCormick thinking that their problems were lack of competition as there were only 600 jobs in a county of 6,000. Vice President Harris went south thinking the three problems of Guatemala and Mexico were corruption, climate change and the economy.
The manager of the largest employer disagreed with my opinion of the problems. The presidents of Guatemala and Mexico disagreed with Ms. Harris’.
The manager said new employers would only try to hire his employees. The presidents of Guatemala and Mexico said the problems were caused by President Joe Biden’s policies.
The manager said he wanted the plant’s grass cut. The presidents said Biden-Harris should close the U.S. border.
Some McCormick residents said they could not work the second shift as they ate dinner at 5. Some residents held signs requesting that Vice President Harris go home.
Shame neither of us took the time to first understand the local economies and the attitudes of the residents.
A barometer for the economies is the unemployment rate.
The rate for McCormick in 1968 is not available, but it was high. The previous presidential agreements with the countries led to the rate in Guatemala dropping from 2.8% in 2016 to 2.46% in 2019, the last year the data is available. During the same period, the rates in Mexico dropped from 3.86% to 3.43%, and the rate in Wilmington, Del., the home city of President Biden, dropped 4.4% to 3.1%. In San Francisco, Vice President Harris’ home city, the rate fell from 3.3% to 2.4%.
The rates and their trends indicate that the pre-COVID unemployment policies were lowering the rates, and in the words of John Anderson “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Under the same policies, the rates post-COVID should return to the pre-COVID levels.
In the U.S. in May 2021, the U.S. rate is 5.8%, with Wilmington at 8.97% and San Francisco at 4.9%.
Why is this administration changing all internal and external policies?
Vice President Harris’ search for the “root causes” of the crisis at the U.S, southern border by addressing the “root causes” of the migrants leaving Guatemala and Mexico, brings to mind the use of “blinders” — sometimes called blinkers or winkers — to restrict a horse from a complete field of vision.
The complete view is that the reports from border indicate the migrants are from 170 different countries. But even with the blinders narrowing the effort to “fixing” just the two countries. it involves 148 million people — Guatemala’s 18 million and Mexico’s 130 million. What about their neighbors of Ecuador, 18 million; Costa Rica, 5 million; Honduras, 10 million; Nicaragua, 7 million; El Salvador 6.5 million, which brings the total population to 194.5 million?
Can the U.S. afford to rebuild some, or all, of these economies?
Approximately 140 million pay U.S. federal income taxes out of 336 million Americans, meaning currently each taxpayer is paying for themselves, another person and 40% of a third person.
Adding another 148 million brings the total per taxpayer to 3.45 people and 194.5 million would mean each taxpayer supports 3.8 people. How do you think the 78% of PayPal employees who currently live paycheck-to-paycheck would vote?
What about the supposed purpose of her trip of addressing the U.S. southern border? If just 10% of those in or near Guatemala and Mexico migrate, the number is about the size of New York State.
At 20%, the number is the size of Texas plus Montana, and at 30% is the size of California plus New York and New Mexico. How many new states do U.S. taxpayers want to create?
Will sending money work? In 1968, the U.S. Department of Health Education and Welfare knew just sending money to the leaders in McCormick would not work. Ms. Harris learned the same lesson with her gift of $315 million to Guatemala and $130 million to Mexico.
HEW funded a grant to have this “Jersey Boy” (to steal a nickname from Franke Valli) study the area and have “boots-on-the-ground.” Vice President Harris did neither.
In Ms. Harris defense, she did interrupt her fourth vacation to say that she is overworked with responsibilities for the origins of the migrant surge, expanding voting rights, closing the digital divide and working on black maternal mortality, racial inequality, women in the workforce and the Space Council. But she has the resources of the federal government.
Think about the manager in McCormick doing his homework about this visitor. I conducted 30 interviews. Ms. Harris spent less than a day near the border and in those countries. I obtained funding for a dam for a recreational area for jobs and tourists. What did Ms. Harris accomplish?
I used my project toward my master’s. I hope Vice President Harris uses hers to reinstate the approaches used in 2019 at the border and in those countries, and spends the time and money searching for the root causes of the increasing crime rates in the four cities with the highest crime rates: Detroit, St. Louis, Memphis and Baltimore. How about the rising crime rates in Wilmington and San Francisco companies like Walgreen closing stores and others like Targets reducing hours?
Who would have thought that the message delivered in that hallway in 1968 of not wanting visitors from the north bringing their three messages would be applicable in 2021 to the U.S. border, Guatemala and Mexico?
The author lives in Santa Barbara.