Sunday, May 17, 2009

Westside Mayors Respond

Mayors Dhaliwal and Silva let me have it today in the Sacramento Bee. They are upset about this article I wrote. Here are some quotes and a few comments.
Claims that unemployment is not connected to drought are, in our opinion, a challenge to our honesty... We will not let someone unfairly label us because we are Latinos and are not from some privileged class.

Yikes! I didn't know that using data to challenge the statements of Tim Quinn, Lester Snow, Westlands Water District, and the Governor on the leading cause of unemployment in the Valley was a personal attack against the honesty and integrity of Latinos. I did not anticipate nor intend for it to be interpreted that way. I believe the foreclosure crisis has disproportionately impacted Latinos, as has the resulting loss of construction jobs. I am concerned that Latino farm workers did not share in the prosperity of their employers as farm profits soared. I am concerned that the state's tax increase is hitting Latinos and the Valley disproportionately, because of the reduced dependent credit, a direct tax increase of $210 per child, and sales taxes.
And the business forecaster from the University of the Pacific was given 800
words in The Sacramento Bee and Fresno Bee to say the impact of drought on employment was overblown.

What's so terrible about that? Should they not publish a different perspective? These newspapers have written many articles telling the story exactly as they want it. The Sacramento Bee had a front page story with many images of hardship, and the Fresno Bee has run uncountable articles on this issue. The mayors' response to my weekday op-ed was even published in the Sunday paper.
Recently, an associate professor at the University of the Pacific in Stockton released an economic forecast that said high unemployment in the Central Valley was not caused by the drought...we and tens of thousands of our constituents will not allow these so called "forecasts" to be unquestionably assumed to be credible...

I presented current and historical jobs data, not a forecast. The current data clearly shows that farm jobs are up across the Valley, and non-farms are down. In fact, the only bit of my op-ed that is a forecast actually says that farm jobs will eventually decrease this year because of the drought. It is the water exporters who keep referring to forecasts as fact. The forecast from UC-Davis predicting around 40,000 lost farm jobs in 2009 has been constantly referred to as a fact that has already occurred. I have seen quotes in the newspaper that 90,000 farm jobs have already been lost because of the drought, when this was the forecast of a worst case scenario for 2009 that includes all the multiplier impacts.

Nearly 35,000 construction jobs have been lost in the San Joaquin Valley. On average, these construction jobs pay 2-3 times farm jobs, so they will have a bigger multiplier effect in terms of consumer spending. Thousands more jobs have been lost in service sectors, much of it tied to the decline in home equity fueled consumption and the general recession. Even the agriculture sector has been hit by the recession through a collapse in prices and demand. If the forecast of 35-40,000 lost farm jobs comes true this year, that will be comparable to the construction sector in terms of total jobs, but smaller in terms of lost income.

Even in a "farming community" like Mendota, the housing issue has had a big impact. The population of Mendota increased by 25% between 2000 and 2008, and residential building permits soared to several times their usual level. Mendota's population boom came as Fresno County farm jobs declined by over 10,000 (the farm job increase is very recent), while construction and services soared.

I am sure that there has been many lost farm jobs on the Westside and these communities are hurting badly from the foreclosure/drought combination. They are telling the truth about that. But the farm sector is clearly adding jobs in other parts of the Valley, and overall farm output increased since the beginning of the drought. The data shows that farm profits have doubled this decade, but the prosperity of farmers (including corporations that own much of the farmland) has not increased the prosperity of farmworkers. Total wage payments to farm workers were unchanged over this period of soaring profits. Despite the recent record profits, there will be many farms that lose money this year as the recession and overproduction has wreaked havoc on prices, and water restrictions are hitting westside growers hard.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Are these mayors totally ignorant about the housing bubble/bust?