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July 2002, Volume 8, Number 3

California: Census Housing

Detailed "long-form" census data--53 questions from one in six US households--were released for California in May 2002. Some 12.4 million residents said they spoke a language other than English at home; two-thirds of the non-English speakers spoke Spanish. The results confirmed much of the speculation about what was happening in the 1990s: growing wealth and poverty. In Los Angeles County, for example, 18 percent or 1.6 million of the 9.5 million residents were in households with incomes below the poverty-level.


In Los Angeles County, median income dropped from $45,600 in 1990 to $42,200 in 2000 in inflation-adjusted dollars. Across the state, median family incomes ranged from $70,000 or more in Bay Area counties such as Santa Clara, Marin and San Mateo, to Southern California counties with median family incomes between $40,000 and $60,000, to Central Valley counties with median family incomes of $32,000 to $40,000 in 2000.


Los Angeles county's population grew by seven percent, but its civilian labor force shrank by five percent to 4.3 million. The number of manufacturing jobs in Los Angeles County fell in the decade to 587,000 in 2000 from 861,000 in 1990. Looking at hourly wages, some say that the Los Angeles economy has developed a U-shape, with lots of low- and high-wage jobs, while the more usual pattern is a J-shape, with relatively few low-wage jobs.


About 44 percent of Los Angeles county residents, some 4.2 million, are Hispanic, including three million of Mexican heritage. The number of Los Angeles county adults with less than a ninth-grade education rose to 955,000. The number of Los Angeles county adults with bachelor's degrees was 794,000 in 2000, including 517,000 with graduate or professional degrees.


More than half of Los Angeles county residents- 54 percent- said in 2000 that they spoke a language other than English at home, up from 45 percent in 1990. Los Angeles county saw a 21 percent drop in the number of immigrants arriving in the 1990s, compared with the 1980s.


During the 1980s, 37 percent of US immigrants settled in California; during the 1990s, this fell to 25 percent.


Mobility. The Public Policy Institute of California released a report concluding that Mexican-Americans earn far less than whites even after three generations in the US because they receive less schooling than almost all other racial and ethnic groups. The report concluded: "Slow economic progress for Mexican-Americans is a serious public policy concern, especially in California, where more than 20 percent of the population is of Mexican descent."


First-generation immigrants from Mexico in California earn 61 to 86 percent less than non-Hispanic whites; 31 percent have high school diplomas. Second-generation Mexican-Americans, on average, have four years more schooling and 35 percent higher wages than their parents; 78 percent completed high school. By the third generation, Mexican-Americans in California have 1.5 years less schooling and wages that are 25 percent lower than non-Hispanic whites, but they are no better off financially than those in the second generation. By the third generation, 80 percent have high school diplomas.


The teen birth rate dropped by 20 percent nationally and by 31 percent in California in the 1990s. Despite that trend, the birth rate among California Latinas remains high: 90 births per 1,000 girls ages 15 to 19, compared to 60 per 1,000 for black teenagers and 21 per 1,000 for whites. Latinas have higher rates of sexual activity and lower rates of contraceptive use.


The California Department of Social Services has identified 114,000 adults, 18 percent of all adults receiving cash assistance, who will reach their five-year lifetime cash assistance limit by December 31, 2002. Over half have jobs, but most have low incomes due to low wages; many are Asian-Americans. Even if the adults lose cash welfare benefits of about $130 a month, the family continues to receive cash assistance for children until they reach 18 or graduate from high school. In California, the number of households on welfare fell by 42 percent between 1990 and 2000, to 563,000.


Housing. California has relatively expensive housing and many low wage workers, which makes affordable housing hard to find for a growing number of workers and families, especially in agricultural areas where many workers are employed only seasonally. Advocates of more state-subsidized housing want to put a bond initiative on the Fall 2002 ballot that would channel $200 million of a $2.1 billion bond fund to the farm-worker housing grant program.


There are also local initiatives to deal with farm worker housing. Napa Valley grape growers, who attract three million visitors a year, agreed to tax themselves up to $10 an acre to generate funds for county-owned seasonal farm worker housing; the assessment in 2002 is $7.57 per acre of grapes, and is paid by those who do not provide farm worker housing. Napa county has 270 grape growers and 40,000 acres of grapes; grape acreage doubled between 1980 and 2002, even as the number of temporary beds for farm workers declined.


Constructing more farm worker housing required changes in ordinances that restrict the conversion of farm land to housing. Napa county voters on March 5, 2002 approved Measure L, on a 71 percent to 29 percent vote, which amended the Napa County General Plan to allow agricultural landowners to split off sections of two acres or more for the purpose of constructing up to five more farm worker housing centers; typical centers hold 60 workers. A 60-bed center is being constructed on land donated by Joseph Phelps. The center, with two dormitories, a multipurpose building and staff apartments, will cost $2.9 million, and be built with the help of farmworkers using recycled materials in an energy-efficient design. For 2002, Napa county will house up to 40 workers in yurt-tents that will be moved from the county's corporation yard on Silverado Trail near Yountville to Lake Hennessey on Highway 128, east of Rutherford.


In Ventura county, a group of growers, labor advocates and elected leaders have launched a campaign to improve housing for farm workers. High housing prices and increasing rents are making it hard for agricultural workers to find affordable places to live, say housing advocates. The price of a typical house in Ventura County is $312,000, and apartment rental vacancies are at two percent. A survey in 2001 of Ventura County's farm workers found that many lived in cars, converted garages and apartments shared by two or three families.


The Villa Cesar Chavez development in south Oxnard was approved in June 2002. It will include six affordable single-family homes and 52 apartments exclusively for farm workers; the homes will sell for $162,000 for a three-bedroom house to $172,000 for a four-bedroom, and rents will be $439 to $980 a month, with on-site supportive services provided by El Concilio and Clinicas del Camino Rea. Tenants sued HR Inc. in 1998, and won $10,000 each for slum conditions that were not corrected. Officials said Villa Cesar Chavez will be the biggest housing project for farm workers in Ventura County since the development of Rancho Sespe in Fillmore in 1993.


The Cabrillo Economic Development Corp, established in 1975 and now Ventura county's leading builder of low-income housing, owns the 1930s era ex-labor camp in Ventura county known as Cabrillo Village--a cooperative that today owns the entire community at the edge of the Santa Clara farming valley.


The Torres-Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians plan to build a 330-unit mobile-home park for farm workers in the lower Coachella Valley at a cost of $ 6.1 million; each unit would have two-, three- or four-bedrooms. The Farm Worker Village would be located about three miles west of Mecca.


San Diego County's Regional Taskforce on the Homeless estimated there are 7,000 day laborers and farm workers in the county, many of them living in the 100 to 150 migrant camps throughout the northern part of the county. Cities such as Carlsbad have ordered the camps closed because of health concerns, but they are soon rebuilt. Most of the migrants are from Oaxaca, and some reported picking strawberries in May 2002 for $1.75 a 12-pint crate.


Courtland, a town of 600 that is 21 miles south of Sacramento, was slated to get a 24-unit farm worker apartment complex with $2.4 million in state funds from the Joe Serna Jr. Farmworker Housing Grant program. The units would have 650-square-feet and two-bedrooms, and rent for $450 to $600 a month, based on income. California Human Development Corp. would have built the units and managed them. However, the state funds for the project were withdrawn in May 2002 due to the budget crunch.


California's Little Hoover Commission highlighted the state's "housing crisis" in a 2002 report, concluding that the state is "consistently under-building houses and apartments and the prices are so high in so many places that it threatens the viability of regional economies." The major reason for too little new housing and high rents, according to the commission, is the long-standing tradition of not interfering with cities' local control over land use. The commission recommended that the state assist and reward cities that develop affordable housing and sanction those that do not.


In April 2002, new housing permits were being issued at a rate of 163,000 a year, which is expected to continue to put upward pressure on housing prices. Most projections are that California needs to build 225,000 to 275,000 new housing units each year. In June 2002, median home prices reached record levels in many areas of California, for instance, $269,000 in Los Angeles county, and $359,000 in Orange county.


The US Millennial Housing Commission, appointed by Congress, recommended that more be done to make housing affordable. According to the report, almost 25 percent of US households spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing http://www.mhc.gov/).


Health. Blue Shield began offering a Mexico-based health plan for U.S.-based workers in August 2000, and signed up 2,000 participants by July 2002. Blue Shield, California's fourth-largest health plan, with 2.3 million members, in July 2002 announced a health plan that covers workers in both the US and in Tijuana, Mexico. California employers who provide benefits in both countries would pay US rates for the Mexican workers in the US, and lower rates for the workers' dependents in Mexico under the Access Baja Dependent Plan.


William Booth, "Moving Far Off Welfare," Washington Post, June 17, 2002. Rene Sanchez, "Napa's Migrant Workers Await Harvest of Housing," Washington Post, May 26, 2002. Fred Alvarez, "Ventura County Focuses on Housing its Farm Workers," Los Angeles Times, May 13, 2002. Bill Lindelof, "Courtland weighs farm workers housing," Sacramento Bee, May 9, 2002. "Housing bond is headed to ballot," San Diego Union-Tribune, April 23, 2002. Florida, Richard . 2002. The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life. Basic Books. http://www.basicbooks.com<


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