These days in California, water flows uphill to money1. and the people move east. Our working people--and the largest area of the hardest working poor people in California is contained in its richest agricultural counties2. -- are moving out along with the produce, as more -- but never sufficient -- water moves in. This could lead to the conclusion that agriculture, at least agribusiness as it is practiced in the US, continues to create poverty in its fields while it squanders the resources of others for export led growth enriching fewer and fewer people as the agrarian dream has soured and curdled into a corporate nightmare where a permanent autocracy of hydro-kleptocrats owns the countryside and high-intensity, high-tech, highly armed police squads attempt to pacify the urban populations of the county seats.
How contemporary we are! How very Trumpian.
California exports its poor to Texas, other states, while wealthier people move in
California exports more than commodities such as movies, new technologies and produce. It also exports truck drivers, cooks and cashiers.
Every year from 2000 through 2015, more people left California than moved in from other states. This migration was not spread evenly across all income groups, a Sacramento Bee review of U.S. Census Bureau data found. The people leaving tend to be relatively poor, and many lack college degrees. Move higher up the income spectrum, and slightly more people are coming than going.
About 2.5 million people living close to the official poverty line left California for other states from 2005 through 2015, while 1.7 million people at that income level moved in from other states – for a net loss of 800,000. During the same period, the state experienced a net gain of about 20,000 residents earning at least five times the poverty rate – or $100,000 for a family of three.
Kiril Kundurazieff, 56, is among the low-income residents who left California. He spent more than a decade working in a small bookstore, then at Target, then at a Verizon call center, in Southern California. After some medical issues that hampered his eyesight, he found himself unemployed in Santa Ana, with monthly rent of about $1,000 in 2012.
“There was really nothing left for me in California,” said Kundurazieff, who also writes a blog about his cats. “The cost of living was high. The rent was high. The job market was debatable.”
Friends in Texas suggested he relocate. He now works at a Walmart in Houston, making a little north of $10 an hour. He works 40 hours a week, riding his bike about 7 miles to work many days. He does not pay state income tax. His rent is just over $500, with utilities.
About the same time that Kundurazieff was leaving, Tamara and Kit Keane were arriving from Oklahoma. Both had been working on their doctorate degrees at Oklahoma universities, Kit in biology and Tamara in education.
The Keanes already knew California. Kit, 34, was born and raised in Sacramento. Tamara, 31, spent most of her life in Southern California. They met at UC Davis about a decade ago.
With graduate degrees, they had options. They liked the cost of living in Oklahoma and bought a two-bedroom house with a backyard for the bargain basement cost of $121,000.
But they wanted to come back to California, for its beauty and to be near family. “We knew coming here, we would have to make a lot more money to live a similar lifestyle,” Tamara Keane said.
After moving back last year, both now work for the Twin Rivers Unified School District as teachers on special assignment. They are expecting a child and recently purchased a three-bedroom house in Hollywood Park for $360,000. Tamara is still working on her Ph.D.; Kit is looking into eventually teaching at the university level. “Teacher salaries are not great,” Tamara Keane said. “But they are enough for us to want to come here.”
Well-paid new arrivals in California enjoy a life that is far out of reach of much of the state’s population. Besides Hawaii and New York, California has the highest cost of living in America.
During the past three years in Sacramento, median rent for a one-bedroom apartment has risen from about $935 a month to $1,230 a month, according to real estate tracking firm Zillow.com. A single mother working 40 hours a week at $15 an hour would spend nearly half of her gross income to afford an apartment at that price. She would pay about 10 percent less for a one-bedroom rental in Houston or Dallas.
Sacramento remains relatively affordable compared to other California markets. Median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles is about $2,270 a month. In San Francisco, $3,700. Without subsidies, those prices are unreachable for a single parent making $15 an hour.
Not surprisingly, the state’s exodus of poor people is notable in Los Angeles and San Francisco counties, which combined experienced a net loss of 250,000 such residents from 2005 through 2015.
The leading destination for those leaving California is Texas, with about 293,000 economically disadvantaged residents leaving and about 137,000 coming for a net loss of 156,000 from 2005 through 2015. Next up are states surrounding California; in order, Arizona, Nevada and Oregon.
All told, California lost about 260,000 economically disadvantaged residents to the 10 states with the lowest cost of living during that time period, compared to a net gain of about 40,000 from the 10 states (other than California) with the highest cost of living.
Losing impoverished residents to other states is better for the state’s economy than losing wealthy residents, some experts said. But they said the migration itself is a symptom of deeper social problems largely related to how expensive California has become.
“Why are people leaving? Economic reasons, the high cost of living, are certainly a part of it,” said Hans Johnson, senior fellow at the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. “For those people (near the poverty line), California is not viable.”
By some measures, California has the highest poverty rate in the nation.
Poverty is associated with issues ranging from high crime rates to an increased likelihood of health problems. If someone puts most of their money toward rent, it leaves them with less money for hospital bills or essentials – so society steps in and picks up the slack, at a cost.
“We are impacting all other systems,” said Lisa Hershey, executive director of Housing California, a nonprofit that advocates for more affordable housing. Impoverished residents who can’t afford to live in their neighborhood often “end up hospitalized, they end up in prison.”
The choices facing millions of low-income workers trying to rent in California’s urban centers are stark, Hershey and others said. They can commute from far-away locales.
“People are having to move so far away from their jobs – driving two or three hours,” Hershey said.
They can spend a huge portion of their income on rent. Many experts recommend not spending more than a third of gross income on housing. But in California, “We are actually excited to see if people are spending less than 50 percent on housing,” Hershey said.
They can live in a cramped house with others sharing the bills. More than 750,000 California households live in a rental containing more people than rooms, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Finally, they can move to a more affordable area. “This is like the ultimate displacement,” Hershey said. “People are being displaced so quickly not only in our communities but from the whole state.”
Investment in affordable housing has decreased sharply in California during the last several years, particularly since the dissolution of redevelopment agencies, Hershey said. Her organization is backing several bills that would address the issue through actions such as curbing tax deductions for vacation homes and putting the extra money toward affordable housing.
Other than housing, a key reason many are leaving is intense competition for jobs. Even in San Francisco, where the unemployment rate is low, there are so many people trying to make it that those without much education or training have trouble finding work.
“I just helped someone apply for a cashier position at CVS,” said Michael Bernick, a job training expert and former director of the state Employment Development Department. “Very competitive. The person I applied with failed, even though he has a college degree.”
San Francisco “is the best employment market in the state – and yet even here, the cashier jobs, the restaurant jobs, are getting tens of applicants for most positions,” he said.
With persistence, it is easier to get an entry level job in some parts of California than others, though education and training helps greatly. “The minimum qualification for most jobs at $11 an hour is a high school diploma,” said Terri Carpenter, workforce development director at the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency. “If you don’t have any long-term experience to supplement a high school degree, you don’t have too much opportunities. Your most successful candidates are those who have at least a two-year degree.”
Several experts noted a growing income disparity between Californians with and without college degrees. That shows up in the data on domestic migration: About 800,000 more adults 25 and older without a bachelor’s degree left California for other states than came here; there was a simultaneous net gain of adults with graduate degrees.
“On a social basis, college degrees largely serve as sorters,” Bernick said. “People without college degrees are at a disadvantage in many jobs, especially decent paying jobs.”
Without a college degree, workers are generally, at best, stuck in low-paying jobs. And many of them decide to leave.
The jobs with the biggest net loss to other states from 2005 through 2015 were cashiers, cooks, truck drivers, material movers, retail sales reps and customer service reps. Those jobs alone accounted for a net loss of 200,000 California workers.
The professions with the highest net gain from other states? Software developers and physicians.
Los Angeles Times
Our wild, wet winter doesn't change this reality — California will be short of water forever
Jay Famiglietti and Michelle Miro
Over the last 18 months, California has experienced one of the driest, wettest and wildest rides in its recorded water history.
As the 2015-16 water year opened in October 2015, drought had driven the state’s reservoir and groundwater levels to all-time lows. Entire towns were left without water. Reports of lakes turned to puddles, of wells running dry by the thousands, and of the cracked ground above depleted aquifers sinking several feet a year.
Then came the deluge. Since last fall, a steady stream of “atmospheric river” storm systems has been battering the coast, the Sierra Nevada and almost everywhere in between, restoring reservoirs and the snowpack to their highest points in years.
All winter, Californians have been asking one question: Is the drought finally over? The federal monitor shows just a few lingering tan and yellow patches in Southern California, but for scientists, the beginning and end of drought conditions are exceptionally difficult to pinpoint. Still, after only a few more serious encounters with the “Pineapple Express,” Gov. Jerry Brown may well declare the state’s 3-year drought emergency over.
The great thirst of our highly productive agricultural sector has never been and will never be satisfied by the annual winter storms.
Which leads us to the second most frequently asked question of this unusually wet winter: What’s our water future? The answer has been clear for a while: It’s going to be a lot like our water past, but more so — California is, was and will be chronically water short.
The drought has underlined three important realities that aren’t going to change.
First, the way municipalities use water can be sustainable, even as their population grows, as long as they embrace conservation, water recycling and reuse, and a diverse portfolio of management options. However, agricultural water use at today’s scale in California is not sustainable. Agriculture is literally sucking the state dry.
Food production requires nearly unfathomable volumes of water, and has resulted in the long-term decline of the total available fresh water in California. The great thirst of our highly productive agricultural sector has never been and will never be satisfied by the annual winter storms that feed the state’s rivers and reservoirs.
The shortfall is met by pumping groundwater at rates that greatly exceed those of replenishment. As a result, groundwater levels in much of the state, including the once-vast reserves beneath the Central Valley, have been declining for nearly a century.
It is essential to understand that wet winters like the current one will not reverse this long-term decline. Historically, even the wettest multiyear periods result in only a modest uptick in the otherwise steady loss of Central Valley groundwater.
Consequently, agriculture in California has to adapt to this dwindling supply. Farmers and ranchers will face more of the kinds of difficult decisions the drought has already forced, such as fallowing fields as groundwater levels drop, or worse, taking land out of production.
Next, we must recognize that the classic definition of water as a sustainable resource — that is, using only the surface and groundwater available on an annual, renewable basis — is no longer tenable for the entire state. Instead, water sustainability in California must now refer to efforts to slow the rate of disappearance of the state’s groundwater reserves.
The landmark Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, passed in 2014 in Sacramento, acknowledges and confronts the declining availability of fresh water in California. Its requirements, however, will never result in the recovery of statewide groundwater levels, even if important efforts to enhance groundwater recharge and construct additional storage are pursued.
Finally, it is simply impossible to effectively plan for California’s water future without knowing a lot more about how much water the state has, how much it needs and how these amounts are changing with time.
The amount of groundwater remaining in the state’s aquifers hasn’t been adequately measured; it must be quantified by exploration. This includes characterizing how its quality degrades with depth, and estimating the costs and environmental consequences of pumping and treating this deeper, lower quality groundwater.
Estimating California’s diverse water needs — for food and energy production, for domestic and municipal supply, for the environment and for economic growth — requires precise measurement, as well as a partnership between water management entities and the research community so that advanced, science-based tools can help establish trade-offs among allocation options.
Climate change and population growth are the primary drivers of changing water supply and demand, but other factors will also be important in managing the gap between the two. For example, personal water-use habits, greater agricultural efficiency, new technologies like potable reuse and desalination, and changes in water pricing, rights and policy will all affect the state’s water availability and needs.
At the beginning of this month, and with a few weeks of winter still to come, the snowpack in the southern Sierra measured 201% of average. That’s a lot of snow and great news for a parched state. But the long-term disappearance of groundwater will persist, and water scarcity is California’s once and future reality.
Embracing this distinction, understanding its causes, working to mitigate them and monitoring our water down to the last drop are the essentials of the new, post-drought era of California water.
Jay Famiglietti is a hydrologist and former professor of Earth system science and of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UC Irvine. Michelle Miro is a hydrologist and doctoral candidate in civil and environmental engineering at UCLA.
(1) California Agricultural Statistical Review, 2014-2015, p. 14. https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/statistics/PDFs/2015Report.pdf
(2) California Budget and Policy Center, Budget Bites: A county-by-county look at poverty in California, Jan. 8, 2014. http://calbudgetcenter.org/blog/a-county-by-county-look-at-poverty-in-california/