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Immigration, Employment, Poverty, and Welfare in the Bay Area Agricultural Fringe -- J. Edward Taylor
Professor, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Director, Rural Economies of the Americas and the Pacific Rim (REAP) Program,
University of California, Davis
September 1, 2000
Immigration, Employment, Poverty, and Welfare in the Bay Area Agricultural Fringe
The San Francisco Bay Area’s socioeconomic milieu is unique. Its six core counties bordering the bay include the heart of the world’s fantastically lucrative information and technology (IT) economy. These inner counties are surrounded by the “fringe” counties of Monterey, Sonoma, San Joaquin, Napa, Solano, Santa Cruz, and San Benito. All are dynamic, experiencing rapid urbanization, immigration, and the growth of increasingly complex economies, including an expansion of IT and tourism. They also include a significant agricultural economy, sustained by immigrant labor and containing communities which have experienced rapid demographic, economic, and social changes as a result of immigration to fill agricultural jobs. In this respect, the Bay Area’s agricultural fringe may be similar to other agricultural regions in California. However, it is set apart by its proximity to a dynamic nonagricultural economy, which may offer avenues for mobility not available to immigrants and their children in Fresno and Yuba-Sutter, the sites of the last two Changing Face conferences. In Fresno and Yuba-Sutter, immigration to fill farm jobs was associated with a “vicious circle” of poverty and welfare use during the 1980s. Farm employment stimulated immigration of low-skill workers, the availability of large pools of immigrant workers stimulated new farm employment growth, and both poverty and welfare use increased. Recognizing the existence of this vicious circle, community leaders in Fresno and Yuba-Sutter propose creating new nonagricultural jobs as the key to alleviating unemployment, poverty, and welfare dependence. A central question of this Changing Face conference is whether the nonagricultural economy can offer an alternative to poverty and welfare for agricultural workers and their children.
This paper provides an overview of demographic change, employment, immigration, and poverty in the northern Bay Area’s agricultural fringe counties of Napa, Sonoma, and Solano (hearafter NSS). From a demographic standpoint, these three counties have experienced changes similar in many ways to those in other traditionally agricultural regions of California during the 1980s and 1990s. As in the San Joaquin Valley (SJV), immigration has fueled population growth; in Napa County, the foreign-born population increased by more than the total population during the 1980s. The number of people employed in farm jobs increased in all three counties, and in Napa County the share of the workforce employed in farm jobs rose, indicating that the workforce rose more quickly in agriculture than in other sectors. Hispanics represented a growing share of the populations in all three northern Bay Area counties during the 1980s, a trend that continued through the 1990s.
Nevertheless, there does not appear to be a vicious circle of immigration, farm employment, poverty and welfare use in the NSS region. In sharp contrast to the SJV and northern Sacramento Valley (NSV) counties, as agricultural employment expanded, both poverty and welfare rates decreased during the 1980s, and two of the three northern Bay Area counties (Napa and Sonoma) saw poverty rates among Hispanics fall. An analysis of two Napa communities (below) suggests that the process of socioeconomic change on a local level is different there than in the SJV or the NSV.
Farm Employment, Immigration, and Poverty: The Vicious Circle
During the 1980s, there was a vicious circle between farm employment and immigration in the western United States as well as in the nation as a whole: more farm jobs were associated with more immigrants and also more poverty and welfare use. In California, farm employment increased poverty both directly and indirectly, by stimulating new immigration. Immigration, in turn, stimulated the growth of farm jobs, as farmers took advantage of an abundant availability of low-skilled immigrant workers to extend their plantings of labor-intensive crops and to delay mechanization. The result was a demographic transformation of rural California towns, coupled with rising poverty in the world’s most prosperous agricultural region, a patchwork of “poverty and prosperity.” In contrast with farm jobs, nonfarm jobs appear to have stimulated immigration slightly while decreasing poverty and welfare use (Taylor and Martin, Martin and Taylor, Taylor, Martin, and Fix).
The circular relationship between farm employment and immigration is illustrated in Figure 1. Farm employment stimulates immigration by raising the demand for low-skill immigrant workers (Pathway AB). In an analysis of 60 California rural towns during the 1980-1990 inter-census period, we found that, other things equal, 100 additional farm jobs were associated with a 136-person increase in immigration. Farm employment draws immigrants to rural towns, and immigration in turn allows labor-intensive agriculture to expand, creating new farm jobs. A 100-person increase in foreign-born population in rural California towns was associated with 37 more workers employed in agriculture during the decade. The arrival of new workers into local labor markets appears to have stimulated farm employment by suppressing real wages for local workers and discouraging the adoption of labor-saving production practices (Martin and Taylor, 1998).
Farm employment and the low-skilled immigration to fill farm jobs, in turn, increased poverty in rural California. New employment could be negatively associated with poverty if earnings are sufficiently high to place families above the poverty line. This seems to be the case for nonfarm jobs as well as for farm jobs in the 1970s. However, average annual farm earnings for farmworkers are low; for example, California farmworkers averaged $7,320 in 1990, and most farmworker families had incomes below the poverty line. Moreover, if farm employment stimulates immigration by low-skilled people with few income prospects, it can increase poverty indirectly, through immigration. During the 1980s, an additional 100 farm jobs were associated, directly and indirectly, with 139 more individuals in poverty. The major beneficiaries of the new farm jobs were immigrants from regions with low per-capita incomes, like rural Mexico, not established local residents.
If welfare coverage of the impoverished population is complete, there will be a nearly one-to-one correspondence between poverty and welfare use. Many residents and nearly all newcomers to the rural California towns we studied are immigrants not eligible for welfare, so there is not a one-to-one relationship between poverty and welfare. A 1-person increase in the number of poor residents was associated with a 0.57-person increase in the number of welfare recipients. There was no significant direct relationship between immigration and welfare use, which casts doubt on the Prop 187 argument that immigration is motivated by access to welfare benefits.
These findings suggest that there is a vicious circle of more farm jobs, more immigration, and more poverty in rural California. Is this true for the Bay Area’s north agricultural fringe? What lessons does the experience of the northern Bay Area counties hold for economic development in places Fresno and Yuba counties?
Is the Northern Bay Area Agricultural Fringe “Different”?
Table 1 compares selected demographic characteristics of the counties that are the focus of this conference (Napa, Sonoma, and Solano) with Fresno County. The 1990 U.S. Population Census shows that around 12 percent of the combined populations of Napa, Sonoma, and Solano counties are foreign born, compared with 18 percent for Fresno County. The highest concentration of immigrants was in Solano County (14 percent), followed by Napa County (12 percent) and Sonoma County (9 percent). Although the share of foreign born is higher in Fresno County, it increased more rapidly during the 1980s in Napa-Sonoma-Solano. The foreign born share rose from 1 percent to 12 percent in Napa, 2 percent to 14 percent in Solano, and 1 percent to 9 percent in Sonoma. In the SJV, populations that were predominantly white in the 1970s are transforming into populations in which there is no ethnic majority or in which “Hispanics” are the majority. This process of ethnic transformation is generally less advanced in NSS. In 2000, the percentage of the total population classified as “White” was 75 percent in Napa, 81 percent in Sonoma, and 51 percent in Solano (Table 2, Panels A-C), compared with less than 50 percent in Fresno (Panel D). However, the demographic transformation evident in NSS during the 1980s is continuing. For example, among children aged 0 to 5 in Napa County, the “White” share was estimated to be 55 percent in 2000, and it is projected to fall to 52 percent in 2010 (Table 3, Panel A).
In the Napa-Sonoma-Solano region, wine grape production is the basis for an economy that is more complex than the economies of most other agricultural areas of California. Vinyards dominate the NSS landscape, and they are linked to a diversity of nonagricultural activities that support and are supported by wine production, including tourism. The booming metropolitan Bay Area economy offers access to nonagricultural jobs within commuting distance of NSS. The diversity of the NSS economy is reflected in employment figures. Despite the obvious economic importance of wine grape agriculture, the percentages of county work forces employed in farm jobs range from only 2 percent in Solano County to 5 percent in Napa County, compared with 10 percent in Fresno County and 11 to 20 percent in the northern Sacramento Valley. Characteristics of workers, especially their education, distinguish NSS from its SJV and NSV counterparts. For example, high school dropout rates range from 9 to 11 percent in NSS, compared with 16 percent in Fresno. The percentage of population over 25 years of age with at least some college education is 47 to 51 percent in NSS (Table 4), compared with 37 percent in Fresno and 31 and 34 percent in the NSV counties of Yuba and Colusa, respectively.
In the SJV and NSV, low paying and mostly seasonal jobs in fruit, vegetable, and horticultural production resulted in low incomes and high and rising rates of poverty and welfare use during the 1980s. By contrast, both poverty and welfare rates fell in the NSS, and in 1990 they were substantially lower than in the SJV and NSV. The percentage of persons living in impoverished households in 1990 was 21 percent in Fresno County but only 7 to 8 percent in NSS. The percentage of households with welfare income was 17 percent in Fresno County, compared with 6 to 9 percent in NSS (Table 4).
In July 1999, 1,715 or 2 percent of Napa County’s estimated population received public assistance under CalWORKS or Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). The percentages of Sonoma and Solano residents receiving public assistance were 2.4 and 5.2 percent, respectively. By contrast, 1999 CalWORKS and AFDC rates were 11 percent in Fresno County and 12.2 percent in the NSV county of Yuba. Per-capita incomes were substantially higher in NSS than in Fresno (Table 5) or the NSV counties (Taylor, 1999). According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, 1988 per-capita incomes were greater than $30,000 in both Napa and Sonoma counties, compared with $20,000 in Fresno County and $16,000 to $22,000 in NSV counties.
· A higher percentage of foreign-born population in the Fresno communities
· Substantially higher education levels in the Napa communities
· A larger share of nonfarm jobs in Napa
· Significantly higher incomes and lower poverty and welfare rates in Napa
· Decreasing poverty rates in the Napa communities, contrasted with rising poverty in Fresno
The overarching goal of the 1996 welfare reform was to get individuals off welfare and into the work force. Table 7 shows trends in the size of the welfare population and in labor force participation in NSS from 1997 through 1999. It reveals sharp (30 to 55 percent) decreases in the numbers of AFDC and Food Stamp recipients, coupled with increases of 4.8 to 6 percent in the size of the work force. This contrasts with findings from SJV and NSV counties reported in Taylor (1999). For example, in the NSV county of Yuba, the numbers of AFDC and Food Stamp recipients decreased sharply, but there was no decipherable change in the size of the work force. Labor force participation remained low in Yuba County in the wake of welfare reform, and its trend was flat. Overall, in rural California there was a shortage of “quality” jobs (jobs providing wages and benefits equivalent to welfare assistance) for welfare recipients entering the work force, and this resulted in a “rural jobs gap” (Green, Martin, and Taylor, 2000). This does not seem to be the case for the NSS region.
Tables 8 and 9 summarize characteristics of welfare recipients and economically disadvantaged populations of NSS. More than two thirds are children. In 1999, of AFDC recipients 16 years or older, 81 percent were females, and 71 percent were between the ages of 21 and 44. In Napa and Sonoma counties, most—61 to 71 percent—were non-hispanic whites; around 2 to 5 percent were Asian and 20 percent were Hispanics (Table 8). Most welfare recipients in Solano county were hispanic (13 percent) or black (46 percent). Table 9 summarizes characteristics of the economically disadvantaged population of NSS in 1990. The majority—56 to 64 percent—were women; 26 to 31 percent were high school dropouts; 17 to 21 percent were disabled, and 7 to 16 percent were limited English proficient.
These numbers highlight the challenges of welfare reform, the target of which is an impoverished population that is primarily female with children, limited schooling, and in many cases limited English. Even in this dynamic regional economy, the characteristics of the low-income population make further implementation of welfare reform a challenging proposition.
The characteristics of the wine and tourism economy offer unique advantages to NSS in both respects. The artesenal character of high-value wine grape cultivation provides a base of relatively year-round labor demands that are rare in California fruit, vegetable, and horticultural production. Nonagricultural activities linked to wine grape production, including wine making and its support activities together with wine tourism, offer relatively stable alternatives to farm work. The NSS region’s proximity to the San Francisco Bay Area economy provides nonagricultural work opportunities within commuting distance of NSS, and soaring housing prices illustrate the desirability of NSS as a place of residence for a growing affluent Bay Area population, including members of the IT work force. This creates a source of outside income not available to most rural communities. Clearly, these conditions are largely unique to NSS and are not likely to be replicated in other California agricultural areas.
Nevertheless, the experience of NSS highlights the “virtuous circle” between nonfarm employment, immigration, poverty, and welfare uncovered in Poverty Amid Prosperity. More non-farm jobs stimulate immigration while reducing poverty, driving down welfare use. Findings presented at Changing Face conferences in California, Iowa, and Delaware (//migration.ucdavis.edu/cf/) indicate that the key difference between farm and non-farm jobs with respect to poverty is not wages, but rather, employment stability. Obviously, high value-added jobs in the booming Bay Area economy offer prospects for higher income and employment growth in NSS than in the SJV or NSV. However, in areas where high skilled jobs and the human capital needed to support them are not available, creating stable low-skill nonfarm jobs may be a first step towards alleviating poverty and welfare use. At the same time, raising workers’ productivity and adopting cropping and management practices that stretch out labor demands are prerequisites for higher and more stable earnings in farm jobs. This suggests several lessons for alleviating rural poverty:
· First, the creation of non-farm jobs is vital to break the vicious circle of poverty and welfare use.
· Second, the characteristics of both farm and non-farm jobs are critical. In order to alleviate poverty and promote financial stability in households and communities, jobs need to be year-round, not seasonal.
· Third, in light of the characteristics of the economically disadvantaged population and skill requirements of nonfarm jobs, alleviating the existing poverty in NSS and elsewhere must involve a commitment to education and training. Low levels of education and skills lock the disadvantaged population into poverty and dependence on welfare use, create few prospects for the new generation of rural Californians, and discourage employers from locating in rural areas. Providing the skills necessary to achieve mobility in an increasingly diversified rural economy is a major policy challenge confronting California in the near future.
Taylor, J.E. 1999. “Sacramento Valley Overview.” Presented at Immigration and the Changing Face of Rural California: Focus on the Sacramento Valley (available //migration.ucdavis.edu/cf/archives1.php?id=A1999092)
Taylor, J. E. and P. L. Martin. 1997. "The Immigrant Subsidy in California Agriculture: Farm Employment, Poverty, and Welfare." Population and Development Review 23(4):855-874 (December).
Taylor, J. E., P. L. Martin, and M. Fix. 1996. Poverty Amid Prosperity: Immigration and the Changing Face of Rural California. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute Press.
Table 1. Napa, Sonoma, Solano, and Fresno County Demographics Compared, 1980-1990
Residents Who Are Foreign Born (Percent)
Source: California Rural Community (CARUCOM) Data Base (//migration.ucdavis.edu/rmn/rural_data/carucom/carucom.html)
Table 2. Population Shares by Ethnicity, 1970-2010
Table 3. Population Shares by Ethnicity, 0-5 Age Group, 1970-2010
Source: Compiled from State of California, Department of Finance, Race/Ethnic Population with Age and Sex Detail, 1970-2040. Sacramento, CA, December 1998 (www.dof.ca.gov/newdr).
Table 4. Napa, Sonoma, Solano, and Fresno Counties: Employment, Poverty, and Welfare Use Compared, 1980-1990
Work Force Employed in Agriculture
1980-1990 Percentage Change In Number of…
Sources: California Rural Community (CARUCOM) Data Base (//migration.ucdavis.edu/rmn/rural_data/carucom/carucom.html); 1998 per capita income from U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis http://www.bea.doc.gov/bea/regional/reis/scb/svy_ca.htm)
Table 5. Napa, Sonoma, Solano, and Fresno Counties: Receipt of Public Assistance, 1998
Table 6. Comparison of Immigration, Employment, Poverty and Welfare Trends in St. Helena and Calistoga (Napa County) and Parlier and Orange Cove (Fresno County), 1980-1990
County and Community
1990 % Foreign Born
1990: Percentage of…
Work Force Employed in Agriculture
Source: California Rural Community (CARUCOM) Data Base (//migration.ucdavis.edu/rmn/rural_data/carucom/carucom.html)
Table 7. Number of Recipients of AFDC and Food Stamps, and Civilian Labor Force, Napa, Sonoma, and Solano Counties, 1997-1999
Number of Recipients, July of…
Table 8. Characteristics of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) Recipients in Napa, Sonoma and Solano Counties in 1999
Persons 14 to 72 Years Old http://www.calmis.cahwnet.gov/file/demos&e/northcentral5.htm)
 San Francisco, Marin, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa, and Santa Clara counties.