California Agriculture is a quarterly peer-reviewed journal reporting research, reviews and news on California’s agricultural, natural and human resources.
Volume 54, Issue 1, 2000
Immigration, and births to new immigrants, will continue to fuel California's population growth, not just in the urban areas but in the cities and towns of rural counties. Local communities will face a wide range of social and economic changes as they adapt to increasing population diversity. As we enter a new century, the demands for greater investments in education, health care and other aspects of the urban infrastructure will increase.
Agriculture is a major employer in California. Some 800,000 to 900,000 people work for wages at some time during a typical year on California farms. Only about half of those work year-round so that farmworkers represent just 3% of California's average 14 million wage and salary workers. Most farmworkers in California are seasonally employed on one farm for less than 6 months each year, and earn a quarter of the average factory worker's annual salary. The vast majority are Hispanic immigrants. During the next quarter century, these trends are likely to continue, with the farm labor market becoming increasingly isolated from the mainstream. An alternative scenario is that strong unions and government regulations could transform farm work into an occupation that can provide a career and support a family. Immigration policy will play a critical role in determining the characteristics of California farmworkers in the 21st century.
From Redding to Bakersfield, the Central Valley is evolving into a patchwork of poverty and prosperity. Despite being part of the world's most prosperous agricultural economy, more than 25% of Fresno County's 800,000 residents were eligible for Medi-Cal in 1998. A study of 65 rural California towns indicates that labor-intensive agriculture contributes to poverty and welfare demands in rural communities by attracting large numbers of unskilled foreign workers and offering most of them poverty-level wages. In the 65 towns, 28% of the residents live in households with below-poverty incomes. Major policy choices for ameliorating this situation include modifying immigration and labor laws that affect farming to help farmworkers earn higher wages.
At times, rural agricultural communities have been viewed as chronically impoverished, overgrown labor camps with few prospects for improvement. The common wisdom is that costly public assistance will be needed to ensure the social integration of poor, undocumented, unskilled, uneducated, non-English-speaking, foreign-born farmworkers and their families.
In August 1996, Congress passed sweeping reforms to the nation's welfare system, requiring most recipients to work and placing a 5-year limit on benefits. The California Communities Program at UC Davis has been studying the progress of welfare reform in six California counties, and comparing the state's experience to national trends. Through more than 200 interviews and an extensive literature review, we have found that welfare reform is succeeding in reducing caseloads and reinventing local social-service bureaucracies. But these changes must be joined with long-term job creation and work-force development strategies if they are to truly reduce poverty. California's welfare reform policies and experiences highlight the particular challenges facing rural counties, which generally have fewer staff resources, a less-developed infrastructure of nonprofit service organizations, and lower expectations about their ability to implement major reforms.
The Central Valley's economy is becoming increasingly bifurcated, with a new economy overlaying the traditional agricultural economy. Two distinctive economic forces are responsible for this transformation of the Valley's indigenous agricultural economy. The first is the continuing development of agriculture from commodity production to more specialized, integrated clusters of agricultural industry. The second is the emergence of nonagricultural industries, based on industries such as information technology and biomedical supplies. The health of the Valley's economy will continue to rest heavily on production agriculture, which supports many related businesses. However, the lack of workers possessing skills needed for the newer nonagricultural jobs may limit progress in Valley communities.
California's youth of the new millennium will be the first adults to have grown up in a truly multicultural society; their experiences as children will set the stage for the leadership that they will provide beyond our lifetimes. Along with dramatic changes in the racial and ethnic composition of the state's population, the next 50 years will also bring significant changes to family life. These changes have profound implications for public education and civic involvement. A new, “third” social institution is needed to encourage youth in meaningful developmental activities when they are not at home or in school, and to prepare them for life in a diverse society.
The teen birthrate for Latinos is nearly four times the birth rate for white teens in California (California Department of Health 1995; fig. 1). In response to this alarming statistic, the Latina Teen Pregnancy Prevention Project was designed by 4-H youth-development advisors and collaborators in the San Francisco Bay Area to develop “best practices” for professionals who work to prevent teen pregnancy among Latino teens. The project critically examines recommendations by the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) for effective teenage pregnancy prevention and parenting programs to determine if they are relevant for efforts to prevent Latina pregnancy in the Bay Area. NCLR is the largest constituency-based, non-profit organization in the country, encompassing 2 million Hispanics nationwide.
In 1998, the oldest man in the world passed away in a San Rafael, California, nursing home: he was 115. Asked to what he attributed his long life, Christian Mortensen recommended drinking water, smoking one cigar a day, and lots of singing.
California, once reputed to have the best public education system in the nation, finds itself ranked at or near the bottom at the end of the 20th century. Traditionally, the University of California has not been deeply involved in K-12 education, but the social and economic cost of an undereducated work-force in a global economy makes it imperative that all segments of California's system of higher education — including UC — get involved. The University can directly improve our public schools through outreach programs. At the same time, UC needs to improve its own curriculum, particularly in science and mathematics, and especially for prospective teachers. To prepare graduates for an increasingly technological world, curricula must be more interdisciplinary and inquiry-based, for science and for nonscience majors alike By breaking down traditional barriers that have prevented UC faculty from participating in curriculum reform efforts, UC can play a leadership role in providing Californians the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in the next century.