Sunday, July 26, 2009
Of course, places like Mendota in the San Joaquin Valley have always had higher rates of unemployment and lower levels of income than the rest of California, and, for that matter, the rest of the nation. It faces the same challenges that cities and towns in other agricultural regions of Texas and the rest of the Southwest confront. But that doesn't mean that we should dismiss what is now happening there.
Maria DeLourdes Oregel hasn't found work since her harvesting job petered out last year, her husband's hours at the local chicken farm have been cut by a third, and even though she feeds her children meat only once a week, she runs out of cash before the end of each month.
In one dreadful year, this dusty city in the heart of the most productive agricultural region in the nation has become a desperate place where mothers wash disposable diapers for reuse, children are sleeping in cars, and the unemployed trudge door to door to beg for food.
The fact that the unemployment rate in Mendota, 38.5 percent, is the highest in California doesn't even raise an eyebrow here. The anguish, frustration and hunger are visible in every corner and on every face of this town of 7,800 people 35 miles west of Fresno - and nobody sees any relief in sight.
As the rest of the article indicates, the people of Mendota temporarily prospered during the expansion of the real estate bubble. The only hopeful path for economic advancement offered the people there was one dependent upon the most extreme manifestation of financial speculation in human history. Now, with drought shutting down the agricultural sector, the shock absorber that has always provided work, the economy of Mendota has collapsed in spectacular fashion, akin to what has happened in lesser developed countries.
Meanwhile, there is worse to come. With the recent California budget deal, a deal that will result in dramatic cuts in spending on social services, the people of Mendota will discover that they are being abandoned and forced to survive through their own preserverence. As Wall Street financial institutions prepare to return to the good old days of lucrative bonuses, after receiving trillions in funds from the Treasury and the Federal Reserve, Mendotas beg for food and wash out disposable diapers for reuse.
I can only wonder, how many Mendotas are there arouund this country? How many more Mendotas will be created in the manufacturing sector through the restructurings of GM and Chrysler? Just as the need is greatest, state governments are cutting back urgently needed programs of social assistance, as has happened in California. And don't be deceived into thinking that California is an anomaly, a special case. It is not the only state with a large budget deficit. In fact, on a percentage basis, it is only the 6th worst. Florida and New York have even more severe ones.
In retrospect, we may discover that the worst failing of the Obama presidency domestically was its unwillingness to provide financial assistance to the states while providing trillions for financial institutions. State governments are being subject to the mercies of a speculative marketplace that wiped out tax revenue, and forced to shrink in size, while the institutions that created the crisis are rebuilt with federal funds. Neoliberalism in action. Trickle down economics failed Mendotans during the boom, and, now, trickle down economics, in the repackaged form of Obamanomics, is failing them again. Millions like them face the prospect of struggling with poverty for the indefinite future.