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California farmers brace for drought, unemployment

William Felix, 56, an unemployed forklift driver, attended  a devotional service at the Salvation Army in Los Banos, Calif.
William Felix, 56, an unemployed forklift driver, attended a devotional service at the Salvation Army in Los Banos, Calif.Credit: Photos by Scott Smith/Associated Press

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MENDOTA, Calif. — After California’s driest year on record, the nation’s leading agricultural region is locked in drought and bracing for unemployment to soar, sending farm workers to food lines in a place famous for its abundance.

One-third of the Central Valley’s jobs are related to farming. Strains on water supplies are expected to force farmers to leave fields unplanted, creating a ripple effect on food processing plant workers, truck drivers and those who sell fertilizer, irrigation equipment, and tractors.

No place may be harder hit than Mendota, a small farm town where unemployment rose above 40 percent at the height of the economic recession in 2009, also a dry year. Mayor Robert Silva said he fears this year could be even worse.

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