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October 2016, Volume 22, Number 4

California: Labor, Water

California's labor force in summer 2016 was 19.1 million, including 18.1 million who were employed. Los Angeles county has a labor force of five million, followed by 1.6 million each in Orange and San Diego counties, and almost one million each in Riverside and San Bernardino countries, that is, the five major southern California counties have almost 55 percent of the state's labor force.

About 16.5 million California workers are employed in nonfarm wage and salary jobs; there are 430,000 hired farm workers. Four sectors include two-thirds of the state's wage and salary workers: trade, three million, followed by professional and business services, education and health services, and government, which each employ 2.5 million.

Drought. California's Drought Emergency Assistance Program (DEAP) aimed to provide services to 3,200 households adversely affected by the drought in 2015-16, but provided assistance to almost 5,000 households. Some $7.5 million was made available, including $6.5 million that was spent on direct services, an average of $1,340 per household. Most of the households that received assistance were in the San Joaquin Valley. There was a wide variance in family income of those receiving DEAP assistance, from $200 to $3,000 a month.

The four-year drought between 2011 and 2015 was the worst since recordkeeping began in 1895, and 2014-15 were the hottest years on record, exacerbating the drought. Governor Brown declared a drought emergency in January 2014, and the Legislature appropriated $3 billion from voter-approved bonds to improve water management. Urban water users reduced water consumption by over 25 between 2013 and 2015.

Agriculture uses about 80 percent of the state's water, and farmers pumped well water because less surface water was available. The 2015-16 water year was almost normal, so that less than 100,000 of the state's 9.3 million irrigated acres were fallowed for lack of water. A UCD model of water usage assumes that agriculture normally uses 26 million acre feet of water, including 18 million acre feet of surface water and eight million acre feet of ground water.

Governor Jerry Brown proposed twin-tunnels costing $15.5 billion to move fresh water from northern California around the Sacramento-San Joaquin river delta and into reservoirs and groundwater recharge aquifers in the San Joaquin Valley, which has over half of the state's agriculture. The California Water Fix tunnels would be four-story, 40-foot wide tunnels that would carry water 35 miles from north of the delta near Clarksburg to the pumping station in Tracy.

Proponents say that the tunnels would ensure a more reliable water supply and protect fish species, while opponents counter that they would jeopardize farming in the 1,100-square mile Sacramento-San Joaquin river delta that is laced with islands and sloughs and destroy vital wildlife habitat.

If the tunnels are built and water marketing is liberalized, farmers who grow rice and other water-intensive but low-value crops in the Sacramento Valley could fallow their land and sell the water to which they are entitled to farmers who grow higher-value crops in the San Joaquin Valley.

Without water marketing, more farm land may be fallowed in the San Joaquin Valley. The State Water Resources Control Board in September 2016 proposed that the natural flow of the San Joaquin River into the Delta be raised from 20 percent to 50 percent, which would reduce the water available to farmers around Modesto. Farmers criticized the proposal, asserting that leaving more water in the river for fish would reduce the water available to grow food; they threatened to sue.

Housing. There is not enough farm worker housing. A combination of economic incentives, stricter regulation of housing quality, and worker preferences suggests there will continue be a shortage of affordable and decent housing for seasonal farm workers.

Until the 1960s, many farmers housed seasonal workers on their farms in a bid to attract them and to have workers available when they were needed. On-farm housing was often offered at little or no cost, and workers did not incur costs to commute to work.

Unionization and tenant rights, as well as tougher regulations and enforcement, encouraged many farmers to eliminate on-farm housing, which they could do in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s and continue to attract workers because unauthorized migrants flooded into the US. Today, most farm workers live in farm worker cities, often crowded into single family homes, and many commute in car- and van-pools to work.

Federal and state governments operate farm worker housing centers, most of which give preference to families and offer a range of health, education and other services to workers and their children. Solo males generally live off of the farm and away from subsidized centers, especially when they work in short-season crops, such as the three-month table grape harvest in the Coachella Valley.

California needs more housing, but zoning laws that require developers to "maintain neighborhood character" and limit how many unrelated people can live together raise housing prices and slow the migration of poorer people to boom areas such as San Francisco. Many of the tech workers in San Francisco earn $150,000 to $200,000 a year, and the city's median house price in summer 2016 was $1.1 million.

By some estimates, US GDP could be increased by 10 percent if zoning restrictions were eased so that poor people could move to richer areas and enjoy higher wages without spending their extra earnings on housing. A state law supported by Governor Jerry Brown would make it harder for cities to saddle developers with open-ended design, permit and environmental reviews. Many people in desirable places want to pull up the drawbridge, arguing that allowing more people into their cities would degrade the quality of life.

Marijuana. Proposition 64 on the November 2016 ballot would legalize marijuana for adult recreational use. Californians rejected a similar initiative, Proposition 19, in 2010. CDFA held hearings in September 2016 on cannabis cultivation licensing and a track and trace system, referred to as the Medical Cannabis Cultivation Program (MCCP).

California voters will decide on 17 initiatives in November 2016, the most since 2000. These initiatives would, for instance, end the death penalty, continue an income tax surcharge enacted in 2012, and make it easier for non-violent criminals to win parole. Most initiatives are not approved by voters.

Santa Ana. This city of 343,000 southeast of Los Angeles is almost 80 percent Hispanic and was portrayed as the new face of California by the New York Times on October 12, 2016. Hispanics are 40 percent of California residents, and are projected to be 47 percent by 2050.

Texas has the most Hispanics elected to federal, state, and local office, and most Texas Hispanics are Democrats in a state dominated by Republicans. California has 1,377 Latino elected officials, and most are Democrats in a state dominated by Democrats.

Latinos lag whites and Asians in socio-economic status. Over 23 percent of California's Latinos live in households with incomes below the poverty line, compared with 16 percent of all state residents. The Latino unemployment rate of 6.7 percent in California exceeds the state's 5.5 percent rate. Some 42 percent of California Latinos own homes, less than the 54 percent statewide rate.


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