On the economic benefits of irrigation

The greatest beneficiaries of the Colorado River’s bounty, in terms of irrigation water for agriculture, are at the bottom end of the system – in California’s Imperial Valley and across the border in Yuma County. But the community payoff for all that liquid wealth seems limited. From today’s Bureau of Labor Statistics monthly unemployment report:

Yuma, Ariz., and El Centro, Calif., recorded the highest unemployment rates in May, 28.9 and 26.8 percent, respectively.

Here’s the Imperial County, Calif., unemployment (not seasonally adjusted, and the May number isn’t on here yet):

Imperial County, CA, unemployment

Imperial County, CA, unemployment

And here’s Yuma County:

Yuma County, AZ, unemployment

Yuma County, AZ, unemployment


To my readers who understand regional economies, what’s going on here?


  1. PeakVT – Thanks for the idea, but I’m not sure that explains it. La Paz County, just north of Yuma County, is equally unpleasantly hot and dry, but has half the unemployment rate. It’s a really small county, population-wise, so maybe it’s a bad comparison. All the other neighboring counties on both the California and Arizona side extend to the big urban areas, so hard to do a comparison there.

  2. Remember that S&L governments are still cutting, so without as much private industry as other places, in Yuma (city, at least) there are less organizations that might absorb the extra workers. I looked at the ACS, which said for 2006-2010 public employment was 21% of the work force in Yuma County, 12% in Maricopa, 27% in Imperial, and 15% in Riverside.

    But I probably overstated the effects of climate. The economy section of the El Centro Wikipedia page suggests that there are some cross-border issues that drive up the apparent UE rate in that city. They may apply to Yuma County as well. And both counties grew rapidly from 2000 to 2010, and I doubt that construction has picked up since the bust.

  3. PeakVT – For what it’s worth (and I’m really out of my area of expertise here) the big ag-irrigated counties up in California’s Central Valley (Fresno, etc) also have really high unemployment rates.

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