View From Lodi, CA: As U.S. Poverty Grows, Time for Mexico to Take Care of Its Own

Last week, the Lodi News-Sentinel reported that based on U.S. Census Bureau statistics the Stockton metropolitan area, including Lodi, is the nation's fifth fastest growing.

Stockton grew 12.3 percent to 633,000 residents during the three year period from 2000-2003. [Census: West Seeing Fastest Urban Growth, Lodi News-Sentinel, September 22, 2005]

The Census Bureau also announced that 12 of the 20 fastest growing metropolitan areas are in the western U.S., where the population increased by nearly 20 percent in the 1990s.

Growth in the West, especially in the San Joaquin Valley, is not "Stop the presses!" news.

But it presents the classic question: "Is the glass full or half empty?"

If you are a developer or a retailer, growth is good. On the other hand, if you are concerned about quality of life, then it's bad.

To get a true and complete picture of what's going on in the Valley regarding population, growth and the well-being of its residents, the Census Bureau information should be read hand in hand with two other, less publicized reports issued by the University of California, Los Angeles and California State University, Fresno.

The UCLA report, based on the 2003 California Health Survey, found that in the Valley the percentage of adults living below the federal poverty line and in a state of "food insecurity" grew to 41 percent from 34 percent during the past two years.

"Food insecurity" is defined as not having enough money to eat regularly.

And the CSU-Fresno report is similarly grim. According to it, in the San Joaquin Valley almost half of low-income immigrant households with children were food-insecure in 2001. [PDF]

Almost four in five children of immigrant parents in the San Joaquin Valley lived in households with incomes under 200 percent of the federal poverty level, compared with two in five children of US-born parents.

The percentage of low-income food-insecure households ranged from 32.6 percent in San Joaquin County to 41.4 percent in Tulare County, another large agricultural area in the San Joaquin Valley.

That so many are starving in the San Joaquin Valley is hard to believe. The region is one of the largest food producers in the nation and generated gross agricultural production of $1.5 billion from cherries, walnuts and asparagus.

Still, health care specialists and sociologists compare the Valley to Appalachia because of high levels of poverty and unemployment.

What is the implication of the three reports—Census, UCLA and CSU-Fresno—taken together?

Because of its agricultural base, the San Joaquin Valley draws significant numbers of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America for fieldwork. But once the crops are harvested, the workers do not return. That is one cause among several for the Valley's population increase.

Their native countries offer nothing. And while farm laborers do not have enough education to get better, non-agricultural jobs, they are however eligible to collect social services. Hence, high levels of poverty dominate in the Valley.

Wrote Mortimer B. Zuckerman, editor and chief of U.S. News and World Report, in his October 3rd column, A Debt to Ourselves,

"Hispanics account for much of the increase in poverty--no surprise, since 25 percent of poor people are Hispanic. Since 1989, Hispanics represent nearly three quarters of the increase in the overall poverty population."

Viewing this depressing scenario, social workers call for more federal and state programs to ease hunger and poverty.

The drawback—as it always is when money is thrown at societal problems—is that the programs never work.

A refreshing approach would be if the immigrant workers' countries of origin made tangible efforts to improve living conditions.

Few Americans know, for example, that Mexico is a very rich country. Why hasn't it done more for its citizens?

Three experts on Mexico offer their opinions


  • Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics in Washington, D.C. described a burning need for fiscal reform in Mexico. Noting as did Grayson the low tax base, Hufbauer said, "Social services and infrastructure are awfully lean. Basically, it's up to Mexico to solve its problem, but the wealthy classes don't want to tax themselves."

  • The Mexico-born director of the Mexico program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Armand Peschard-Sverdrup, draws the same conclusions: "I look at all the Mexicans who want to leave Mexico, and to me it's as much a statement on Mexico's failure to push through the necessary reforms to better the country as it is about the opportunities present in the U.S." said Armand Peschard-Sverdrup. Mexican Pols Press for Immigration, Neglect Home Front, Pols Say, Jerry Kammer, San Diego Union Tribune, May 29, 2003)

The U.S. is a generous country to people in need.

But we can't do it all. Others—like Mexico—have to pitch in.

As the U.S. continues to help illegal immigrants, Professor Grayson reminds us:

"There are more poor people in America than Mexico."

(JOENOTE TO VDARE.COM READERS: For more on the subject of Mexico's wealth, see VDARE.COM editor Brenda Walker's important website, www.limitstogrowth.org. Of special interest is the section on Mexico: Mexico Is Rich)  

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.