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July 2002, Volume 8, Number 3

California: San Joaquin Valley Jobs

The San Joaquin Valley has persisting high unemployment rates. Should jobs be brought to the jobless workers in the San Joaquin Valley, or should San Joaquin Valley workers be encouraged to move to where there are jobs?

Most economic development efforts aim to move jobs to workers. In 1999, a federal Interagency Task Force on Economic Development was established to increase and coordinate the development efforts of 16 federal agencies; the goal was to spur economic and job growth in the seven-county San Joaquin Valley. All participants at a May 2002 meeting agreed on the need for more higher wage and year-round jobs in the San Joaquin Valley: "We have situations here where we have farmworkers who work only nine months out of the year. We need these agencies to help us find ways to deal with that."

However, jobs packing and processing farm commodities such as peaches and pears continue to disappear, as the processing industry consolidates into fewer and larger units. The loss of processing jobs eliminates high-wage, often unionized jobs in agricultural areas that have traditionally been a step up the job ladder for farm workers. For example, the closure of a peach-packing plant in Gridley, a city of 5,000 in southern Butte County, eliminated 40 year-round and 800 seasonal jobs that paid $10 to $20 an hour. The economic impact was larger, since many of the displaced workers counted on overtime during the processing season to qualify for maximum unemployment insurance benefits during the off-season. Signature Fruit Company, owned by John Hancock Insurance Company, closed the Gridley plant.

Tulare county's More Opportunities for Viable Employment, or MOVE program illustrates the alternative approach of moving workers to jobs. Tulare County pays an average of $2,300 to move a family on welfare out of the county, and saves as much as $2,000 a month in cash assistance, food stamps, medical insurance and other costs, such as job training, child care, transportation and housing. Much of the $2,000 a month in savings are federal and state funds, but Tulare County estimates that MOVE saves the county about $3.5 million a year.

MOVE began in 1998 in Tulare county, and has spread to Kings, Madera, Fresno and Kern counties. More than 1,100 adult clients -- in about 800 moves -- have loaded their belongings in vans and driven away from the San Joaquin Valley. County officials try to keep track of participants for six months, offering them $100 to $200 as an incentives to provide employment information. So far, about 85 percent of those who moved away from the San Joaquin Valley have not returned after six months. Of those who are still away from Tulare county and providing information, two-thirds have at least one family member gainfully employed after six months.

Theory. There have been many proposals to spur economic development in the San Joaquin Valley. The state's major job-creation policy during the 1980s and 1990s was to locate new prisons in the San Joaquin. Today, the state hopes that building the tenth University of California campus near the city of Merced in the hope that the new UC campus will spur economic growth in the San Joaquin Valley.

There is no single theory of how to best jump start a regional economy. A new book argues that the presence of creative people - people paid to think- speeds economic development. Professionals such as doctors, lawyers, scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and computer programmers are 30 percent of US workers, double their level of 1980, and these "knowledge" or "information" workers, also known as "symbolic analysts," play an important role in increasing economic growth, according to the book, "The Rise of the Creative Class" by Richard Florida.

The book argues that a city will not be "technologically innovative… unless it's open to weirdness, eccentricity and difference." It ranks cities on many dimensions, from the percentage of creative workers in their labor force to a ranking of cities by their shares of gay couples. According to the book, the most successful cities in attracting creative people have the "three T's" - tolerance, talent and technology. San Francisco ranks first in the book's creativity index, and Austin, Dallas and Houston are in the top 10 cities.

Most economists say that it is better to invest in higher education than to, for instance, subsidize the arts to attract artists or gays: "the best thing in terms of economic development is to invest in your centers of higher education." An economist noted that: "If you wanted to predict growth in the 90's, you would look at warmth, skills and sprawl - low-density car-driven culture."

In a test of three explanations for the doubling of the population of Austin, Texas in the 1990s, however, a skeptical social scientist found that the creative-capital theory gave the best explanation. The alternatives, the social capital theory of Harvard political scientist Robert D. Putnam, which argues that economic growth is tied to the amount of civic participation and social cohesion in a community, and the human capital theory of most economists, which says that economic growth is driven by concentrations of educated people, were less satisfactory.

Air Quality/Politics. One reason why it may be difficult to persuade creative people to move to the San Joaquin is that five of the 10 smoggiest US cities were in the Central San Joaquin Valley in 2001, according to the American Lung Association. Fresno, Visalia-Tulare-Porterville, Merced, Bakersfield and Sacramento all received "F" grades in the association's "State of the Air 2002" report. Los Angeles had the worst air in the US.

California farmers have been exempt from the Clean Air Act, but are scheduled to be covered by 2003. However, in order to gain more time to reduce air pollution, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District is considering volunteering the region for the worst-polluter category of air pollution, which would give it until 2010 rather than 2005 to come into compliance.

Fresno County Supervisor Juan Arambula, who spent part of his youth in a farm labor camp in Pixley, received the Rose Ann Vuich Ethical Leadership Award in April 2002 for his public service in education and county government over the last 15 years.

In Parlier, longtime Mayor Luis Patlan is not seeking re-election in 2002 in order to concentrate on his job as community development director for the city of Sanger. A county grand jury rebuked Parlier in 2001, charging financial and personnel mismanagement in city government. Orange Cove Mayor Victor Lopez and Council Members Adolfo Martinez and Roy Rodriguez are up for re-election in 2002.

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