The report, released Monday at Twin Lakes Church during a press conference well attended by leaders from government agencies and the nonprofit world, provides a snapshot of county life.
The data offers insight into the disparate sense of well-being between Latinos and whites. On key measures -- jobs, housing, health, education -- Latinos continue to lag well behind their white neighbors.
While the region's scenery, geography and climate were cited as the top reason by those experiencing a high quality of life, Latinos were struggling to make ends meet.
Among the report's findings:
85 percent of Latinos spend more than 30 percent of take-home pay on housing, compared to 46 percent of whites;
51 percent of Latinos had health insurance, compared to 90 percent of whites;
14.9 percent of Latinos were without jobs, compared to 9.5 percent of whites. In Watsonville, where Latinos make up 80 percent of the population, the unemployment rate was 21 percent in June, more than twice the county's overall rate.
The statistics came as no surprise to Watsonville Councilman Daniel Dodge. City leaders are on the front lines of dealing with the educational, health and housing issues facing Latinos, he said. The numbers are "a direct reflection of life for Santa Cruz County Latinos."
Latinos comprise a third of county residents. Many have immigrated from Mexico and Central America, and work at relatively low-paying jobs in agriculture and hospitality. The newcomers frequently have little education or skill in English. More than a quarter of county residents speak Spanish at home, the report says.
Audra Earle, chief executive officer of Watsonville Community Hospital, said the insurance disparity and the lack of a regular doctor among many Latinos has consequences.
"This translates into less preventative care and often higher rates of hospitalization," she said.
Henry Castaniada, superintendent of Soquel Union Elementary School District, pointed to a narrowing of opportunities as a result of a 35-point gap between white and Latino students taking courses required for college entry in 2010.
Castaniada noted the survey found a record number of residents -- more than 85 percent -- were satisfied with public education. That puts "power and energy" behind public education, he said, calling on the community to get involved in schools to help prepare children for a "very competitive world."
"Bring us your talents. Bring us your time," Castaniada urged.
The report recorded positive news, as well, including drops in foreclosures and the average cost of a two-bedroom apartment. Median family income rose to nearly $75,000 in 2011, a 7.9 percent hike over 2010, though still short of a 2008 high. The number of children living in poverty declined.
More than 30 percent of the survey respondents said they were better off financially in 2011 than in 2010, far below the 57 percent who said the same in 2000, but up 10 points from 2009. Among Latinos the jump was even larger, from 16 percent saying finances looked better than the previous year in 2009 to 28 percent in 2011.
Ecology Action Vice President Kirsten Liske, chair of the project steering committee, said the "community heroes" honored at the event also gave her cause to be hopeful.
The annual awards recognize people working on issues revealed by the report. This year, 25 residents were singled out for contributions, ranging from protecting water supplies to ensuring the homeless have access to vision care.
"I feel such a sense of optimism coming from the community heroes, and knowing we will persevere while acknowledging there are still challenges," Liske said.
By the numbers
2012 Community Assessment Project
Issue Whites Latinos
Saving for retirement 52.4% 20.8%
School dropouts 8.8% 16.5%
Juvenile arrests 36% 58%
Overweight/obese 54% 70%
Homeless 63% 23%
Recreational marijuana OK 60% 20%
Reducing water pollution 73% 67%
To view the report, visit www.appliedsurveyresearch.org.
To purchase a hardcopy of the comprehensive report, click here.