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September 1998, Volume 5, Number 9

California: Courts, Hispanics

The federal government has withheld $13 million allocated for English as a Second Language instruction because California failed to properly account for previously spent federal funds. Since 1994, the US Department of Education has reimbursed schools and community organizations to teach English and civics to aspiring US citizens.

Courts. A state Superior Court judge prevented the Wilson Administration from ending nursing home care for about 200 persons who could not prove their immigration status. A 1988 state law extended Medi-Cal nursing home coverage to several categories of immigrants whose status had not been finally determined but who were not facing immediate deportation.

The 1996 federal welfare and immigration laws included requirements that states end benefits for illegal immigrants. Governor Wilson responded by seeking to end state-funded: (1) prenatal care for 70,000 illegal immigrant mothers whose babies will be US citizens; and (2) coverage for most or all of the nursing home patients who could not prove they were legal immigrants. Both moves have been blocked by courts.

The state 2nd District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles in July 1998 ruled that unauthorized workers may sue their employers for sexual harassment under California's anti-discrimination laws. Several federal courts have previously held that undocumented workers are covered by federal labor and civil rights laws, but this is the first ruling that holds that unauthorized workers have the same workplace rights under state law as other employees; larger damages are available under California than under federal law.

The case involved Isella Murillo, a 27 year-old immigrant from Guadalajara, who was fired in May 1995 from Rite Stuff Foods, a company that processes potato products for restaurants and groceries. Murillo sued, alleging that she was fired because she had resisted the harassment of her immediate supervisor. Rite Stuff then discovered that Murillo was unauthorized, and asked the Superior Court to dismiss her suit. The court did, but the Appeals Court reversed the ruling, permitting her case to go forward. For more information: />
Hispanics. A new report, "1998 U.S. Hispanic Market," conducted by Strategy Research Corp., concluded that the 30 million Hispanic residents spend $273 billion a year, including $57 billion in the Los Angeles area. The average Latino spends $9,000 to $10,000 a year. For more information:

The Los Angeles area has 6.3 million Latinos, including 4.4 million in Los Angeles county. The average size of Latino households in the Los Angeles area is four people, compared to 2.3 people in non-Latino households; mean Latino household income is $44,700. In the Los Angeles area, about one-third of Latinos report sending an average $206 a month outside the US. About 76 percent of Los Angeles-area Latinos have Mexican roots.

Economy. California's $76.9 billion budget for 1998-99 includes an eight percent increase in welfare payments for 2.1 million residents, including 1.5 million children, pushing the monthly check for an urban mother with two children from the current $565 to $611. The budget also includes $59 million to provide state-funded food stamps for 200,000 low-income legal immigrants aged 18-64, and $14 million for monthly payments to disabled and elderly immigrants who lost federal benefits in 1997.

California lost 500 jobs in July 1998, ending more than two years of continuous monthly employment gains. With fewer residents seeking jobs, the unemployment rate fell to 5.6 percent. In the second half of 1997, California was increasing employment by 50,000 jobs a month.

Farm employment was 397,000 in July 1998, down seven percent from 425,000 in July 1997. California had record farm sales of $26.8 billion in 1997, up from $25.3 billion in 1996. About $6.7 billion worth of California farm products were exported. An estimated 250,000 people are employed in video, television and movie production in Southern California, with another 250,000 employed in supporting industries, from lawyers to accountants.

The largest US private employer is Milwaukee-based Manpower, which has 850,000 employees in the US, and another 850,000 outside the US Manpower dominates the $14 billion annual business of providing temporary manual workers in the US. Labor Ready is a competitor, with $335 million in revenue in 1997. It charges mostly small businesses $10 an hour, pays the worker $5.50 and $1.20 in payroll taxes, and estimates its costs at $2.85 an hour. This leaves a profit of about $0.45 an hour, about five percent.

The bottom 20 percent of US wage earners had hourly earnings of less than $7 an hour in June 1998; the median hourly wage was $11 an hour. The federal minimum wage has been $5.15 an hour since September 1997.

Don Lee, "Job Losses Show State Economy Is Slowing," Los Angeles Times, August 15, 1998. Davan Maharaj, "Court Upholds Immigrants' Rights in the Workplace," Los Angeles Times, July 30, 1998. /a>