Kathryn Phillips is Director, California Transportation and Air Initiative.
Four years ago, when the economy was strong and building was booming, the Congressional Research Service (PDF) confirmed what a quick drive on rural roads suggested: there’s too much poverty in the San Joaquin Valley. At that point, the report noted, by nearly every typical measure—per capita income, unemployment rates, household income, poverty rates—socioeconomic conditions in the Valley fell “significantly below national and California averages.”
Today things are even worse for a lot of reasons: housing construction jobs are gone; farm labor demand has not grown, and in some places has fallen as farmers respond to drought; and the cost of transportation to jobs has become prohibitive. The nation’s down economy is even downer in the Valley.
People in power have been responding to this emergency with valuable help in the last few weeks. And so we send kudos to:
- Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, who have weighed in with the Obama Administration to request assistance for Fresno County, where some of the worst poverty is located. Their letter to President Obama is notable for its laser-like focus on drought impacts, long-term solutions, and the need for immediate assistance to those most in need.
- Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for sending $4 million of emergency assistance to the worst-hit parts of the Valley, and also for requesting more emergency aide from the Obama Administration.
- Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and the Obama Administration for unleashing hundreds of millions in recovery funds to California, including $40 million for water conservation (most of which will be directed to the Valley).
This help reaches beyond the high-pitched rhetoric of California’s ages-long water debate in the Valley. It focuses on getting food and jobs to communities that have long suffered.