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April 2016, Volume 22, Number 2

California: Water, $15

Above-average temperatures in the Pacific Ocean known as El Nino brought more rain and snow than usual to northern California in 2015-16, so that the water content of snow in the Sierra mountains was almost normal on April 1, 2016, the usual date of the peak snowpack. Warmer temperatures mean that much of the winter precipitation fell as rain, which is less useful because reservoirs must release water in winter in order to have capacity to store water and prevent floods.

Most northern California dams and reservoirs ended the 2015-16 rainy season at or near capacity, and the 154 reservoirs tracked by the state had almost 22 million acre-feet of water, more than 85 percent of normal. Three of the largest reservoirs, Lake Shasta, Lake Oroville and Folsom Lake, had to release water in order to have room to store additional water.

However, water restrictions on urban users remain in place and groundwater in the San Joaquin Valley remains depleted. In the past four years, San Joaquin Valley farmers drilled deep wells to get water for their crops.

The 29 State Water Project contractors requested 4.2 million acre feet of water in 2016, and the SWP said that they would get at least 45 percent of their requested water. The federal Central Valley Project plans to give its contractors at least 30 percent of their water requests in 2016.

$15. California's minimum wage went to $10 an hour January 1, 2016.

California in April 2016 approved SB 3 to raise the state's $10 an hour minimum wage to $15 by 2022 for large employers, and by 2023 for employers with 25 or fewer workers. The minimum wage will rise by $1 an hour in January each year beginning in 2017, and increase with inflation from 2024. The governor can suspend minimum wage increases for a year in recessions or if there are serious budget crises.

SB 3 was enacted to head off a $15 an hour union-sponsored initiative on the November 2016 ballot that was expected to be approved by voters.

The minimum wage increase is expected to affect 5.4 million of California's 15.1 million workers, raising their wages by an average $2.20 an hour or $3,700 a year. The UCB Labor Center estimates that almost 40 percent of those affected by the $15 minimum wage are 20 to 29, and that over half have a high school education or less. Over 55 percent of those expected to benefit from the rising minimum wage are Latino. A third of California workers affected are in retail trade and food services; less than five percent are in agriculture.

There is much speculation about the impacts of the $15 minimum wage in the San Joaquin Valley. In Fresno and other San Joaquin Valley cities, the $15 minimum wage would be three-fourths of the projected $20 median wage in 2022, while $15 will be less than half of the projected median wage in San Francisco in 2022.

California farmers lamented the 50 percent increase in the minimum wage. They complained that labor costs have risen rapidly because of the Affordable Care Act and paid sick leave as well as the slowdown in Mexico-US migration. The higher minimum wage is likely to spur labor-saving mechanization.

Almost 200,000 workers in Fresno county are expected to be affected directly by the minimum wage increase. Many employers predict that they will have to lay off workers and raise prices. Some economists and unions counter that the increased wages of workers will lead to more spending and economic activity that generates new jobs. Fresno county has a million residents, and 200,000 receive some form of financial assistance from the county because of low incomes.

San Francisco in April 2016 became the first US city to require six weeks of paid leave for new parents, including same-sex couples who adopt. California already requires paid parental leave of 55 percent of usual pay for six weeks, paid for by employee-financed public disability insurance. San Francisco will require 100 percent of usual pay beginning in 2017 for employers with 50 or more workers, and a year later for those with 20 or more employees.

New York in April 2016 approved S 6406 to raise that state's minimum wage to $15 an hour in New York City by 2018 and slower in the rest of the state. New York will also require employers to provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave for their employees beginning in 2018, with the benefit financed by employee payroll deductions.

California has about 12 percent of US workers and New York six percent, so that two states with almost 20 percent of US workers are experimenting with some of the largest-ever minimum wage increases.

Oregon approved a minimum wage hike in February 2016 that will raise the minimum wage in Portland from $9.25 to $14.75 on July 1, 2022, $13.50 in counties with medium populations, and $12.50 in rural areas.

Demographics. California's population is about 40 percent non-Hispanic white, 38 percent Hispanic, 13 percent Asian and six percent Black. The state legislature includes 60 percent non-Hispanic white representatives, 20 percent Hispanics, and 10 percent each for Blacks and Asians.

Increasingly, Latino politicians are challenging Blacks to represent districts in southern California where the Hispanic share of residents has risen. The number of Hispanics in the US rose from 35 million in 2000 to 57 million in 2015, including 14 million in California.

Almost 70 percent of Hispanics voted for President Obama in 2012. Hispanic leaders say that their first priority is legalization for the 11 million unauthorized foreigners in the US. However, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), a Hispanic, opposes legalization with a path to US citizenship. Former candidate Marco Rubio (R-FL), also opposed legalization. The fact that Democrats support legalization of unauthorized foreigners with a path to US citizenship and Republicans call for enforcement against unauthorized migration presents a clear difference between the parties.

A quarter of US residents live in California, Texas and Florida and half of US population growth is in these three states; in 1915, these three states had less than 10 percent of US residents. California, Texas and Florida had over 80 million residents in 2010, and could have over 100 million people in 2030.

California has 53 seats in the House, followed by Texas (36), and Florida and New York (27 each). After the 2020 census, Texas is expected to gain three seats and California and Florida one each.


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