California Just Passed A $1.7 Billion Tax On The Whole Country That No One Noticed

The California State Assembly recently passed a bill that received minimal recognition by the press, outside of the state, but has substantial negative consequences for basically everyone in the country. Once signed by Jerry Brown, the bill, known as AB 1066, will make California the only state in the entire country to provide overtime wages to agricultural workers after 8 hours a day or 40 hours per week.

This change will add about $1BN annually to the cost of growing food in California which will ultimately be passed along to consumers. And since eating isn't really optional, this is effectively a $1BN tax that California has decided to levy on the entire country. Worse yet, increasing food prices is essentially the most regressive form of "tax" possible given the disproportionate share of wages spent on food by low-income families. And, while you may not know it, California is an agricultural powerhouse that produces roughly one third of all vegetables consumed in this country and two thirds of the fruits and nuts.

Now, we know what you're thinking...why would everyone be entitled to overtime pay at 40 hours per week except farm workers? Well, there is logic behind the exclusion and it has to do with the seasonality of farming.  Unlike most industries, farmers are not able to spread their labor needs throughout the year due to harvest schedules and the perishable nature of their crops. But farm workers aren't the only ones excluded from overtime pay. In fact, California has established special overtime rules for hourly workers in a number of other highly-seasonal sectors, including firefighters, actors and ski-resort employees, to name a few.

As you can see from the chart below, the total number of people working in the ag industry in California spikes by about 33% starting in May every year and remains elevated for about 6 months through October.We've only graphed 2015 but the seasonal ramp is very similar every year. 

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