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April 2013, Volume 19, Number 2

California: Jobs, Waste, Housing

California's labor force was 18.5 million in December 2012, including 16.7 million employed workers and 1.8 million unemployed workers. The unemployment rate, 9.8 percent rate, was two percent higher than the US rate. Of the 14.4 million employed workers on nonfarm payrolls in California, over half were employed in three sectors: 2.7 million were employed in trade and transportation, 2.4 million in government, 2.2 million in professional and business services.

California added 286,000 nonfarm wage and salary jobs in 2012, behind the 332,000 added in Texas.

The eight-county San Joaquin Valley includes four million people, 10 percent of California residents; it is projected to have eight million residents by 2050. However, the per capita income of the San Joaquin Valley is only two-thirds of the California average, and the San Joaquin Valley's median home price about half of the state's. Low home prices are one reason why the San Joaquin Valley population continues to increase despite double-digit unemployment rates.

The usual recommendation for economic development in the San Joaquin Valley is to protect the agricultural industry that is the pillar of the San Joaquin economy while diversifying the economy to generate more jobs that pay higher wages. Farm jobs are a shrinking share of rising San Joaquin Valley employment, but they are the port of entry for low-skilled workers from Mexico and elsewhere. Many reports recommend that education and training be improved to attract higher-wage employers and enable San Joaquin Valley farm workers to learn the skills needed to earn above-poverty level incomes.

Fresno county is the state's leading farm county, and the most populous county in the San Joaquin Valley, with almost 950,000 residents. Its labor force in December 2012 was 440,000, and 15 percent of county workers were jobless.

Waste. The California Environmental Protection Agency says people in West Fresno have the highest health risks in the state, and that the San Joaquin Valley has nine of the 12 worst environmental hotspots in California, including four in Fresno county and three in Stockton. Life expectancy in the 41,000-resident West Fresno is 69, well below the life expectancy of 90 in much richer northeast Fresno. Many residents of West Fresno have asthma, and Concerned Citizens of West Fresno blame an industrial park with an animal rendering plant and nearby farmers who apply pesticides for the spread of asthma.

Under the California Communities Environmental Health Screening Tool (CalEnviroScreen), the state EPA identifies high-risk "disadvantaged communities" that can receive funding to reduce environmental risks from the proceeds of auctions of greenhouse gas emission allowances.

Waste Management owns the largest hazardous waste landfill in the western states near Kettleman City, California. Some nearby residents blame the run off from the land fill, as well as agricultural pesticides and dust, for birth defects and other problems. The Fresno Bee reported January 13, 2013 that the San Joaquin Valley often attracts "businesses that nobody wants for a neighbor," noting there are 1.5 million dairy cows in the San Joaquin Valley.

In 2000, the city of Los Angeles bought 4,600 acres in Kern county near Taft, and by 2012 was sending 20 truckloads of treated sludge a day to spread on city-owned farm land that is used to produce corn, alfalfa and oats. Some Kern residents fear contamination of their groundwater. In 2006, Kern county voters approved Measure E to ban the importation of sludge from outside the county. Los Angeles sued, arguing that Measure E violated California's waste management laws; the case is pending in 2013.

Los Angeles county purchased 14,500 acres in neighboring Kings county that is 15 miles off Interstate 5 to spread treated human waste on fields owned by farmer Ceil Howe, who sold the land to Los Angeles county. A $120 million sludge-composting plant on site will mix bio-solids into composted sludge that can be spread on Howe's remaining 34,000 acres of farm land.

Housing. It is difficult for farm workers to find affordable housing in coastal counties such as Monterey and Ventura with expanding labor-intensive agricultural sectors. Strawberry production is increasing. Most growers hire 1.5 workers for each acre to pick strawberries several times a week during a season that can last several months.

Rents in these metro countries are often $1,200 a month or more for two-bedroom units. For example, the fair market rent for a two-bedroom unit in Monterey county is $1,223 in 2013, and for Ventura county $1,500 (www.huduser.org/datasets/fmr.html). Many farm workers, especially those who are in an area only for seasonal harvests, live with friends and relatives or in converted garages, leading to overcrowding.

A $110,000 report on housing for Napa farm workers prepared by Bay Area Economics was released March 1, 2013. It estimated that a peak 7,000 workers employed in Napa county agriculture. Interviewers found that 95 percent of the 350 farm workers were born in Mexico, but 54 percent consider Napa county their permanent home.

Napa county has farm worker centers in Calistoga, St. Helena and Yountville with a total of 180 beds. The report found that 46 percent of center residents consider the farm worker centers to be their permanent homes and urged that the centers, which are subsidized by a $10 an acre assessment on wine-grape growers who do not provide housing to their workers, be maintained.

Father John Brenkle, who retired from the St. Helena Catholic Church in April 2013, was a leader in persuading Napa vineyard owners to tax themselves $10 an acre to subsidize low-cost housing for farm workers. Brenkle also helped to start the Work Connection so that day laborers did not congregate in the Sunshine Foods parking lot.

After Riverside county cracked down on the informal housing often used by farm workers in the Coachella Valley, a mobile home park known as Duroville opened on land owned by the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian tribe, escaping the county's jurisdiction. Duroville was soon populated by 4,000 mostly Purepecha Indians from Michoacan who pick table grapes in Coachella and in the San Joaquin Valley.

A federal judge in 2009 ordered Duroville to be closed after alternative accommodations were found for residents. With $28 million in federal, state and local funds, 183 homes for Duroville residents were built in Mountain View Estates. Mountain View residents pay $425 a month in rent; less than the $450 many paid in Duroville.

Desert Hot Springs and Coachella were defined by USDA as rural in 1990, when each had less than 20,000 residents and were not in a metro area. Today, their populations have grown to 26,000 and 41,000, respectively, and they are no longer eligible for USDA rural housing loans.

Population. There are an estimated 2.6 million unauthorized foreigners in California, about 23 percent of the 11.2 million unauthorized foreigners in the US. About seven percent of California residents are unauthorized, higher than the five percent of US residents who are unauthorized. Some 1.8 million of the unauthorized, almost 70 percent, are in the labor force.

The Public Policy Institute of California released a survey in January 2013 that found 72 percent of likely voters agree that unauthorized foreigners who have worked in the US at least two years should be allowed "to keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status," compared to 25 percent who want to deport unauthorized foreigners.

California is expected to have over 38 million residents by July 1, 2013, up about 300,000 from the year before and over 40 million before 2020, especially if faster economic and job growth attract migrants. On July 1, 2013, the state projects equal shares of white and Hispanic residents, 39 percent each, followed by 13 percent Asian Americans, six percent Blacks and three percent American Indians and multi-race residents.

Los Angeles county had 9.8 million residents in 2010, over a quarter of all California residents. Almost half of Los Angeles county residents are Hispanic, but the Hispanic share has stabilized as population growth slowed to only two percent between 2000 and 2010. The number of students in Los Angeles Unified schools has dropped sharply to about 630,000.

Budget. California's economy is improving, encouraging Governor Jerry Brown to push ahead with a bullet train to link Los Angeles and the Bay Area and two tunnels to move water directly around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

Californians who earn over $1 million a year face a combined federal-state tax rate of 52 percent, the highest in the US, including a federal rate of almost 40 percent and a state rate of 13 percent. Seven states, including Florida and Texas, do not have income taxes.

California's In-Home Supportive Services program pays 350,000 workers to provide care to 448,000 elderly and disabled residents in their homes. IHSS receives federal, state and local funds, and many care givers are represented by the Service Employees International Union. The state government has been trying to reduce the hours and pay of care givers, but protests and court challenges ended in March 2013 with an agreement to leave wages unchanged but reduce the hours of care givers by eight percent or an average of an hour a week.

The California Community College System (CCCS) enrolls 2.4 million students in 112 colleges, more than 10 percent of US college students. The CCCS aims to "provide an appropriate place in California public higher education for every student who is willing and able to benefit from attendance." There is no tuition for California residents, but there are "enrollment fees" of $46 a unit.

Many of those enrolling in California Community Colleges are not prepared for college-level work; over 85 percent need remedial English and almost three-fourths need remedial math. A December, 2012 report by the Legislative Analyst's Office recommended a clear line between adult education (noncredit) courses and courses that prepare students to transfer to four-year institutions.

Many of those enrolling are not prepared for college-level work. Over 85 percent of those enrolling in the CCCS need remedial English, and almost three-fourths need remedial math. Proposed reforms would give priority to students best prepared for college courses and who are not accumulating excessive credits, and pay colleges for students who complete courses rather than enrollment. Other proposed reforms seek to assure that instructional capacity is used more efficiently by giving priority to students best prepared for college courses and who are not accumulating excessive credits. One proposal would pay colleges for students who complete courses.

The CCCS offers over 8,000 certificate programs and 4,500 associate degree programs, but most students are enrolled in a relative handful or programs. In recent years, administration of justice and nursing each attracted about eight percent of CCCS students, followed by seven percent for child development, six percent for accounting, and five percent for fire technology, that is, the top five programs accounted for a third of enrollment. Almost all those in nursing and child development complete their programs, but only two-thirds of those in administration of justice and half of those in fire technology complete their programs.

Mark Grossi, "Kettleman City reaps toxic harvest of California castoffs," Fresno Bee, January 13, 2013.