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The Big Lie: drought has been devastating for farm workers


by Bill Jennings, Executive Director, CSPA
May 3, 2009 -- Water agencies and politicians have been relentlessly claiming that the drought and environmental restrictions have had a devastating impact on farm worker employment.  These claims have been widely reported in numerous newspapers and broadcast media articles.  Unfortunately, they are substantially lies; facilitated by those seeking to relax environmental protection and facilitate a peripheral canal.

The fact is that farm labor employment in the San Joaquin Valley has increased since the drought began three years ago.  In fact, agricultural employment in the San Joaquin Valley has generally outpaced all other economic sectors.  The rise in unemployment is recession-based and focused primarily on the construction, manufacturing and leisure and hospitality sectors

CSPA reviewed files from the State of California Employment Development Department (EDD) Labor Market Information Division and discovered that between March 2008 and March 2009:

1.     Fresno County total farm employment increased by 1,100 while nonfarm employment decreased by 8,900.
2.     Kern County total farm employment increased by 1,300 while nonfarm employment decreased by 2,500.
3.     Kings County total farm employment increased by 100 while nonfarm employment decreased by 700.
4.     Tulare County total farm employment increased by 1,200 while nonfarm employment decreased by 3,200.
5.     Merced County total farm employment decreased by only 200 while nonfarm employment decreased by 2,100.
6.     Stanislaus County total farm employment decreased by only 300 while nonfarm employment decreased by 4,900.

The same is true between 2006 and 2008.  Total farm employment increased by:

1.     2,600 in Fresno County.
2.     4,000 in Kern County.
3.     2,000 in Kings County.
4.     3,400 in Tulare County.
5.     100 in Merced County, and
6.     500 in Stanislaus County.    

Attached are charts extracted from EDD data.  They include: 1) March 2009 employment data, 2) annual nonfarm employment, 2000-2008; 3) monthly farm employment, January 2000 - March 2009 and 4) annual industry employment by labor force (including unemployment percentages), 2000 - 2008.  The data are available at: http://www.labormarketinfo.edd.ca.gov/?pageid=131 and http://www.labormarketinfo.edd.ca.gov/?pageid=166.

The trends are the same, whether you're comparing annual farm and nonfarm employment between 2000 and 2008 or historical monthly employment data (2000-current). The significant rise in unemployment in the San Joaquin Valley over the last few years is clearly not due to a loss of farm labor jobs, with the possible exception of King County where unemployment averaged over 10% between 2000 and 2008.  King County has, by far, the smallest farm and nonfarm employment of any county in the San Joaquin Valley.

Much has been written about the exceptionally high unemployment in the town of Mendota, as evidence of impacts from the water crisis.  Unemployment in Mendota has always been high.  It exceeded 32% in 2000 and was the highest of the state's 494 towns.  Per capita income was below $8,000, which was the lowest level in the state.  Unemployment is a serious problem in areas like Mendota and begs to be addressed.  However, it is a structural long-existing problem not primarily caused by reductions in water deliveries. 

The unemployment numbers may change during the course of the coming year but, for now, they shout “lies” to the claims by agencies and water districts.


Employment March 09.pdf


Farm and Nonfarm Employment Annual Average00-09.pdf


Industry Employment-Labor Force 90-08.pdf


Industry Employment-LaborForce by Month 00-08.pdf


Totalmonthly farm employment 00-09.pdf