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Idled farm workers 'starving' amid drought

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Even the food bank is bare in nation's most productive agricultural area

MENDOTA, Calif. - Idled farm workers are searching for food in the nation's most prolific agricultural region, where a double blow of drought and a court-ordered cutback of water supplies has caused hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.This bedraggled town is struggling with an unemployment rate that city officials say is 40 percent and rising. This month, 600 farm families depleted the cupboards of the local food bank, which turned away families — more than 100 of them — for the first time.

"We're supposed to supply the world," said Mayor Robert Silva, "and people are starving."

The state's most dire water shortage in three decades is expected to erase more than 55,000 jobs across the fertile San Joaquin Valley by summer and drive up food prices across the nation, university economists predict.

"People being thrown out of work are the ones who can least afford it," said Richard Howitt, a professor of agriculture economics at the University of California-Davis, who estimates that $1.6 billion in agriculture-related wages across the valley will be lost in the coming months because of dwindling water.


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