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Background on Yuba-Sutter

Changing Face: Yuba-Sutter-Colusa Background
September 14, 1999

DRAFT

Population

Labor Market

Welfare

Agriculture

Development

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The changing face project explores the impacts of immigration and integration in the agricultural areas of California. In many of the state's major agricultural counties, farm sales increased in the 1980s and 1990s, as did the number of immigrants, residents with below poverty-level incomes, and persons receiving welfare assistance. Seasonal farm jobs were a major attraction for immigrants, so the interaction of agricultural expansion, increased immigration, and rising poverty and welfare use could be termed poverty amid prosperity.

The Sacramento Valley is different. Counties tend to be smaller than in the San Joaquin Valley, more dependent on largely mechanized agriculture, such as rice and tomatoes, and with agricultural sectors that are not rapidly expanding. Most residents are non-Hispanic whites; some are descendants of the Okies and Arkies who migrated to California in the 1930s, and established relatively small farms on low-cost land in the Sacramento Valley. Further north, shrinking timber industries reduced employment and population over the past 20 years as relatively high-wage blue-collar jobs disappeared.

Welfare and unemployment indicators are among the highest in the state, e.g. Yuba county often leads the state in the percentage of residents who receive cash assistance, and Colusa county often has the highest unemployment rate. The 1999 changing face conference is framed by several questions:

What explains the differences between Sacramento Valley, which has persisting poverty despite farm mechanization and little immigration, and the San Joaquin Valley, where an expanding agricultural sector is linked to the arrival of immigrants with little education and low earnings?
Are integration prospects for Hispanic immigrants moving into the Sacramento Valley better or worse than in other parts of the state? What are prospects for the Hmong and other refugee populations who have moved to the area?
Will a rising tide of economic development lift all boats, so that long-time residents and newcomers obtain jobs as employment expands, or will migrant networks funnel newly arrived immigrants into entry-level jobs and continue to leave e.g. high rates of welfare dependency among non-Hispanic whites and Asians in Yuba county? We noticed in preliminary discussions with local employers that some prefer newly arrived and non-English speaking immigrants for entry-level jobs over local high-school graduates with "the wrong attitude."

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Population

Yuba (60,000 residents in 1999) and Sutter (77,000 residents) counties are two of the southernmost counties of the Sacramento Valley; they are near but not part of the Interstate 80 corridor that connects Sacramento to the Bay Area and Reno. The two major cities in the area, Yuba City (in Sutter county), with 35,000 residents, and Marysville (in Yuba county), with 13,000, face each other across the Feather river. Yuba City is considered the growth node of the area.

Yuba is the poorer of the two counties that comprise the Sutter-Yuba MSA--it has only two incorporated cities--Marysville and Wheatland. Yuba county has poorer farm land, some of which was subdivided in the 1930s and was settled by small farmers from the midwest; their descendants, as well as Hmong migrants who moved to the area for its low-cost housing, are concentrated in the unincorporated areas of Olivehurst and Linda. The federal government owns much of the remaining land, giving Yuba county a relatively small tax base. As retailing expands in Sutter rather than Yuba county, Yuba's tax base remains limited.

The largest employer in Yuba County is Beale Air Force Base, followed by the Marysville Unified School District. Yuba county's only retail mall, the Peach Tree Mall in Linda, was destroyed by floods in 1986. The 1986 floods caused 40,000 people -- about 60 percent of Yuba County's population -- to evacuate. Much of Yuba County is in a flood plain, which limits the growth of Marysville, surrounded on all sides by levees, and pushes much of the area's population growth into Sutter County. Both southern Sutter and Yuba counties are becoming bedroom communities for persons employed in the Sacramento area.

The changing face of rural California is less evident in the Sacramento Valley than in the San Joaquin Valley. In 1990, the population of Sutter and Yuba counties was 73 percent white and 13 percent Hispanic; there were more Asian Indians (4,600) than either Blacks (3,400) or Native Americans (2,600).

However, the population is changing. In Yuba county in 1997, 57 percent of K-12 students were non-Hispanic white, and 16 percent each were Hispanic and Asian; comparable percentages for California were 49 percent, 41 percent, and 5 percent. The major group of LEP students are different in each county. In Yuba county in 1997-98, 58 percent of the LEP children spoke Hmong and 37 percent Spanish; in Sutter county, 68 percent of the LEP children spoke Spanish and 26 percent Punjabi, and in Colusa county 99 percent of the LEP children spoke Spanish.

Relatively few children in these counties prepare for or go on to higher education: 10 percent of Yuba county students took the SAT test in 1997-98, versus 20 percent in California. Only 1 percent took advanced placement courses, versus 13 percent, and 33 percent planned to attend college, versus 60 percent statewide. About two percent of Yuba county graduates attend UC, versus 7 percent of all California high school graduates; almost 5 percent attend CSU, versus 9 percent statewide; 27 percent attend community colleges, versus 35 percent statewide.

These data suggest that many of the non-Hispanic whites in Yuba county complete high school, but do not go on to college. Some local employers complain that local high school graduates do not have appropriate work attitudes; they prefer to hire Hispanic immigrants who may lack a high school education, but who are believed to have better work attitudes.

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Labor Market

The Sutter-Yuba MSA (both counties) had an average labor force of 57,600 in 1998, and an average unemployment rate of 14.5 percent; unemployment varied from a low of 9.7 percent in September to a high of 19.4 percent in February. In June 1999, there were 59,000 persons employed in the two counties, including 7,500 military personnel. There were 51,500 civilians employed, and 7,500 unemployed, for an unemployment rate of almost 13 percent. For more information: http://www.calmis.cahwnet.gov/htmlfile/msa/yubacity.htm

Excluding self-employed persons, there were 44,000 persons on payrolls in Yuba and Sutter counties in June 1999, including almost 8,000 or 18 percent employed on farms; 11,000 employed by government; 9,000 employed in trade; and 3,000 manufacturing workers. Training program staff sometimes note that the hardest persons to retrain are men who had high-wage jobs in e.g. timber; their homemaker wives entering or re-entering the labor market proved more willing to learn new skills.

Colusa county, which borders Sutter county, typically has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state: an average 21 percent in 1998. Colusa, a leading rice producer, is one of the most agriculturally dependent counties of California. Settled by immigrants from northern Italy, Colusa county offers many seasonal farm jobs to workers employed 6-10 months a year for irrigation and equipment operation; periodic layoffs help to explain the high unemployment rate.

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Welfare

In 1996, per capita income in California was $25,400; per capita income was $20,000 in Sutter county, and $15,000 in Yuba county. One measure of poverty is the percentage of residents who are eligible for MediCal services: in 1997, about 16 percent of California residents were eligible for MediCal services, but 17 percent of Sutter county residents and 31 percent of Yuba county residents were eligible.

Yuba county vies with Merced county as the California county with the highest percentage of residents on welfare--an average of over 14 percent of residents received cash assistance (AFDC/TANF) in 1998, versus just under 14 percent in Merced county. In 1998, an average 8,800 Yuba county's residents, 2,300 adults and 6,500 children, received cash assistance under the Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC) or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) programs. An average 9,600 Yuba county residents received Food Stamps in 1998.

Of the 3,100 AFDC/TANF recipients who were 16 or older in 1998 in Yuba county, about 81 percent were women, 70 percent of whom were ages 21-44, and 70 percent were non-Hispanic whites. The next largest group of adult welfare recipients was Asians, 15 percent; followed by Hispanics, 11 percent. In Sutter county, women were 81 percent of adult recipients; 71 percent were ages 21-44; and 65 percent were non-Hispanic whites, followed by 24 percent Hispanics.

The fact that most welfare recipients in Yuba and Sutter counties are non-Hispanic whites has led to several theories, including the assertion that urban residents receiving cash assistance move to the Sacramento Valley for lower costs of living. Some observers believe that education has historically not been highly valued, leading to a culture of poverty; some AFDC/TANF recipients moving to the Sacramento Valley are the children of residents who decided to return to the area for its low cost of living. Mexican immigrants seem to be moving into the Sacramento Valley to take jobs that long-time residents shun, including agricultural and reforestation jobs.

As the percentage of non-Hispanic whites rises, and as Hispanic and other immigrants move out of entry-level agricultural jobs, will they integrate into work or welfare? What role should newcomers play in planning the area’s future—unlike the San Joaquin Valley, there are very few elected Hispanics in the Sacramento Valley.

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Agriculture

The 18-county Sacramento Valley economy, as defined by EDD, is based on agriculture. The most recent EDD farm labor data are for 1996, when there were an average 29,300 wage and salary workers employed in the Sacramento Valley, including 26,700 agricultural production workers. Employment peaked at 33,000 in August, and reached a low of 16,000 in January-February. Average weekly earnings of production workers were $296 in 1996, or $6.49 an hour. [For comparison, the 1996 statewide annual average employment level for agricultural production workers was 349,400; it ranged from a low of 262,700 in January to 413,500 in September. Statewide, there was one manager or office worker for each 13 farm production workers].

Peaches are the major labor-intensive crop grown in the Yuba-Sutter area. In 1997, peach growers in Yuba and Sutter counties produced 216,000 tons of peaches worth $48 million, or almost 40 percent of the state's 572,000 tons of peaches. Some 30 to 40 percent of Yuba-Sutter peaches are picked by machine, at a cost of about $15 a ton; the other 60 to 70 percent are picked by hand, at a cost of about $30 a ton. Canneries, which pay about $200 a ton for the peaches grown in the area that are processed, pay $15 to $50 a ton less for machine-picked peaches. Most hand pickers earn $10 to $11 per 900-1000 pound bin of cling peaches picked (4x4x2.5 feet); $10 a bin was the most common piece rate in 1998.

UC Extension in 1998 estimated the cost of producing cling peaches in the Sacramento Valley at $3,800 an acre, including $600 an acre to thin the peaches, and $900 an acre to hand pick and haul cling peaches. With a yield of 22 tons an acre and at a price of $210 a ton, revenues are $4,600 an acre, and profits about $800 an acre. Yields in the Sutter-Yuba area were 16 to 17 tons an acre in the mid-1990s.

Hourly labor costs were put at $7 to $8 for skilled labor (tractor drivers, etc) and $5.75 to $6 for unskilled labor, the minimum wage. UC Extension estimates that payroll taxes and benefits add 34 percent to these hourly wages, bringing total labor costs to $10.69 and $7.71 an hour (for workers who climb ladders to prune, thin, and pick tree fruits, a 40 percent overhead to cover the cost of payroll taxes and workers compensation is standard). Wages paid and worker satisfaction varies by employer. Smith Ranch, with 500 acres of peaches in Yuba county, uses the same crews to prune, thin, and harvest, so that workers can earn a bonus for high yields and high quality.

There are also melons, plums, and other commodities grown in the area. Dana and Dana is a San Jose-based grower best known for growing melons. Dana and Dana pays melon pickers who follow a conveyor belt about $8 to $9 an hour; they pick and place on the belt cantaloupes.

A perennial issue in the Yuba City area is housing for farm workers. Periodic floods—the last major flood was in January 1997—destroy low cost and temporary housing, so that many farm workers live in old motels or houses, 3 or 4 to a room, and pay $1 to $8 a night to sleep. Federal, state, and local governments have built housing, but there is never enough, especially for newcomers to the farm labor force. The California Human Development Corporation used $7.5 million in federal and state funds to build the 52-unit Mahal Plaza two-story 98-apartment project, which is open to low-income workers who pay a maximum 30 percnet of their income for rent.

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Development

Sutter and Yuba counties are committed to economic development, and the hope for an economic turnaround rests on a race track and concert site. Bill Graham Presents plans a $20 million, 20,000-seat concert amphitheater in rural Yuba County near Wheatland, next to a $65 million-motor sports speedway, the Yuba County Motorplex, which is projected to cost $100 million and to create 1,200 jobs. A local initiative, Measure R, was approved by 86 percent of voters in January 1998, eliminating extensive environmental reviews so the projects can proceed on a fast track.

If both projects are built and attendance at events meets expectations, tourism is projected to generate $558 million in 2010, compared to a projected $548 million for agriculture. The Sutter-Yuba area, which currently has 750 hotel rooms, expects to add more.