The Valley That Jobs Forgot

posted at 11:35 am on December 31, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

If one had to guess where unemployment is highest in the US, most would probably suggest Detroit or Michigan as a whole.  Others who paid attention to the midterm elections would know that Nevada surpassed Michigan as the state with the highest unemployment rate about mid-year.  Others might guess Florida.  However, in terms of metropolitan areas with the highest levels of joblessness, a new survey by the Birmingham Business Journal shows that California’s Central Valley is the epicenter for unemployment.

Verum Serum discovered this while analyzing the data and noting the incredible concentration of joblessness in the country:

The first thing that strikes me is how heavily concentrated the worst unemployment is. 22 of the 35 metro areas with the worst unemployment are either in California or Florida. Three of the remaining 13 are in Michigan.

But the concentration within the concentration clearly shows the Central Valley as the worst area for jobs.  Nine of the top 10 metro jobless rates in the nation are California, and seven are in California’s Central Valley:

  • El Centro, CA – 29.3% (east of San Diego near border with Mexico)
  • Yuma, AZ – 26.7%
  • Yuba City, CA – 17.8%
  • Merced, CA – 16.3%
  • Stockton, CA – 16.3%
  • Modesto, CA – 16.2%
  • Visalia-Porterville, CA – 15.9%
  • Fresno, CA – 15.7%
  • Palm Coast, FL – 15.5%
  • Hanford – Corcoran, CA – 15.0%

Four of the next five after that are in central California as well, with #15 being the Riverside-San Bernardino area, not necessarily considered a Central Valley locale but also an area of significant agricultural production in normal times.

Why has California become the epicenter of unemployment?  While Michigan and Florida have a mix of problems, including (in Michigan’s case) a history of bad management decisions on labor contracts, California’s Central Valley woes are entirely a government creation.  As I wrote yesterday, the decision by a federal judge to cut off water supplies to an area that literally fed the world turned the Central Valley from an agricultural export powerhouse to a center of starvation within two years.  Congress has refused to act to reverse this decision, and as a result, almost a quarter of the families in the area now need government assistance to feed themselves while living on some of the most productive land in the world.

John at VS concludes that the federal government can take just three actions to address these concentrations of chronic joblessness: “Control the border, turn on the water in the central valley, and prevent unions from negotiating any more devastating contracts like the ones that almost destroyed the nation’s auto industry.”  Turning the water back on to the Central Valley is the easiest and quickest of the three, and unlike the labor-management relationship in (what used to be) a private industry, falls entirely within the purview of the federal government, thanks to the much-abused Endangered Species Act.  Until Congress turns the water back on to this breadbasket to the nation, nothing they do on joblessness can be taken seriously.


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