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January 2008, Volume 14, Number 1

California: Jobs, Housing, Budget

Jobs. Fresno county's unemployment rate reached nine percent in December 2007, up from 7.5 percent; California's rate was 5.6 percent.

Fresno's Regional Jobs Initiative, launched in 2003, aimed to create 30,000 jobs in the region paying at least $30,000 a year by 2008. It will fall short, largely because there are too few qualified applicants for jobs in the targeted sectors, which include manufacturing, construction and tourism. About 14,665 net new jobs were created in the targeted sectors, half the RJI goal.

A survey of employers in 2006 found 4,000 high-paying Fresno-area jobs unfilled for lack of qualified applicants. In response, community colleges have begun offering classes to provide training to workers so that they can fill higher-paying vacant jobs.

Housing. Riverside county cracked down on illegal mobile home parks that were home to many farm workers in 1999, citing safety concerns. Harvey Duro, a member of the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians, responded with the 40-acre Desert Mobile Home Park (known as Duroville). It has 350 trailers on tribal land near California's biggest illegal dump, now closed, and houses 4,000 people. Many tenants are Purepecha Indians from the Mexican state of Michoacan.

Duroville has been considered hazardous to its residents for several years, but the safety and health deficiencies were not remedied. In October 2007, the Bureau of Indian Affairs sued to force the closure of Duroville unless its problems were remedied. Duro came under financial pressure, as many tenants stopped paying their $275 a month rent; Duro says he is owed $300,000.

Before a scheduled court hearing in December 2007, Duro agreed to remedy problems in the mobile home park. A woman accused of setting a fire in May 2007 that destroyed six trailers went on trial in January 2008, with some of the testimony highlighting crowded conditions in the mobile home park. A federal judge in January 2008 indicated he would give Duro a few weeks to make repairs before making a decision on whether to close Duroville; he noted that the tenants had no where else to live.

Some 120 private farmers offer housing to farm workers, according to Napa county records, and enforcement officials are checking to see how many continue to house farm workers. There have been reports that some of the properties designated for farm workers are housing nonfarm workers.

In Monterey county, work is beginning on 143 housing units at the 12-acre Benito Street Farm Labor Center, which offers one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom units that rent for up to 30 percent of residents' adjusted gross income.

The Salinas City Council in January 2008 approved a plan to tear down Casa del Sol, built in 1996 to provide housing for farm workers in 44 rooms, and replace it with housing for low-income people with mental illness. Only about two-thirds of the rooms were used by farm workers over the past decade, and in January 2008 only six of the 22 residents were farm workers. Advocates said that the requirement that farm workers be legal US residents discouraged them from seeking housing.

State. California had 9,500 public schools in Fall 2007, including 6,000 serving mostly poorer students. At least 1,000 California public schools are "low performers," as defined by the No Child Left Behind law. The NCLB requires schools that are labeled "low-performing" for three years in a row to offer students free tutoring and the option to transfer and, after five years, to close them or make wholesale changes.

However, no state has taken over a failing school in response to the NCLB. However, low-performing schools are clustered, so there is often no better school nearby to which students could transfer. Second, teacher union contracts make it hard to fire teachers. Los Angeles-area teacher unions do not allow teachers to see the standardized test scores of their students, only school-wide averages.

The NCLB, enacted in 2001, was scheduled to be reauthorized in 2007 but was not- the NCLB remains in effect while Congress considers how to modify it. Teacher unions and some conservatives oppose NCLB, while civil rights groups and business leaders support it.

California in Fall 2007 had 450,000 families receiving cash payments that averaged $520 a month under CalWORKS. About 24 percent of the adults receiving cash assistance are working or in training; federal rules require that 50 percent be at work or in training. California does not impose full-family sanctions, which cut off all assistance to families whose adults do not work or train. California may have to impose full-family sanctions to avoid federal sanctions that would reduce federal TANF payments to the state.

California has 88,000 foster care children, 845,000 Food Stamp recipients and 1.2 million recipients of aid for the blind, aged and disabled.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature first failed and then agreed on a plan to insure the 6.7 million uninsured Californians; the bill passed the Assembly on a 45-31 vote. If approved by the Senate in 2008, voters will be asked to approve a $2 a pack tax on cigarettes and a surcharge on hospital bills to fund the additional health care.

The current plan requires all Californians to have health insurance, but subsidizes coverage for families who earn as much as 450 percent of the poverty level with a new tax of one to six percent on employers who do not offer health insurance to their employees. Health insurers would have to spend 85 percent of the premiums they collect on health care.

California's budget deficit soared to 10 percent of General Fund expenditures of $103 billion in 2007-08. K-12 education accounts for $42 billion of the state's General Fund expenditures, and Los Angeles' 700,000-student district receives about 13 percent of the state's education spending. Other major General Fund expenditures include health and human services, $30 billion; higher education, $12 billion; and corrections, $10 billion.

Schwarzenegger called for 10 percent across-the-board cuts. California has $43 billion in debt, and analysts said that if the Legislature fails to endorse the across-the-board cuts, the rating on the state's debt could be downgraded, which would increase interest payments.

Under Schwarzenegger's January 2008 budget proposal, the Agricultural Labor Relations Board would be reduced to one Board member, and the staff would be reduced. The ALRB noted that charges alleging unfair labor practices have been rising, and that the proposed budget cutbacks would increase delays in investigating and resolving them.

Some business groups argue that California's anti-business climate leads to job losses and state firms move elsewhere. A study released in November 2007 found that the state loses 11,000 jobs a year due to business relocation, but that far more jobs are created and lost as firms move within the state, usually from coastal to inland areas.

California's Republican Party, according to the Los Angeles Times on December 5, 2007, is united in cracking down on unauthorized migration despite the experience with Proposition 187 in 1994, which alienated Latinos. Proposition 187 was approved by a margin of 59-41 despite opposition from most major political figures and media; Pete Wilson, re-elected as governor, was one of the few statewide figures to support it.

About 34 percent of California voters are registered Republicans, and polls show that two-thirds of registered Republicans consider illegal migration to be a serious problem. They note that Democratic Governor Eliot Spitzer in New York was forced to withdraw a plan to issue driver's licenses to unauthorized foreigners to conclude that most Americans want an enforcement-first approach.

David Kelly, "Desert trailer park owner promises a cleanup," Los Angeles Times, November 12, 2007. Jeff St. John, "Regional jobs effort falling short of goal," Fresno Bee, October 18, 2007.

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