Annual county report card finds gaps as economy improves
Latinos face economic, educational and health disparities
November 20, 2013
By DONNA JONES, email@example.com
WATSONVILLE — Life is getting better in Santa Cruz County. Unemployment’s dropping. So is crime. Foreclosures are down, as is teen drinking and school dropout rates.
But the good news in the 19th annual United Way Community Assessment Project report is offset by a persistent gap in economic opportunity, educational achievement and access to health care between the northern and southern ends of the county and between white and Latino residents.
The 2013 report, released Tuesday before a standing- room-only crowd at the Watsonville City Council Chamber, details both the bright spots and intractable issues faced by county residents in 2013. Sponsored by the United Way of Santa Cruz County and numerous governmental and nonprofit agencies and private businesses, it is a compilation of statistical data and telephone survey results.
“The degree of disparity and poverty is very deep, and will take a long and consistent effort, probably a generation, to see significant improvement,” said Kathleen King, chief executive officer of the Pajaro Valley Community Health Trust. “We have to look at the long-term goals and appreciate incremental progress.”
In health, for example, Pajaro Valley residents are not only less likely to have health insurance and more likely to suffer from obesity and diabetes than the rest of the county, but the gap has widened since 2011.
But the news isn’t all bad, King said. At the event, the trust released a more focused look at South County, “A Glimpse of Reality: Health and Other Disparities in the Pajaro Valley,” notes more Pajaro Valley children walk to school than elsewhere in the county, and residents are more likely to shop at farmers markets and produce stands. The number of Pajaro Valley residents reporting that they engage in regular physical activity increased from 65 percent in 2011 to 71 percent in 2013.
Watsonville City Manager Carlos Palacios, presenting the economic portion of the report, noted that overall 33 percent of survey respondents “feel better” about their financial well-being, butonly a quarter of Latinos said the same.
While the unemployment rate in the county has dropped to 8.2 percent, below the state average, it remains in double-digits in Watsonville, he said. And while sales tax revenue, an indicator of consumer spending and confidence, grew 1 percent in Watsonville in 2012, it jumped 6 percent in Capitola and Santa Cruz.
Palacios said jobs are returning, albeit slowly. Of the 8,600 jobs lost in the county between 2007 and 2012, about 2,000 have come back.
“We’re still 6,500 jobs short,” he said. “That’s a disturbing piece of information.”
Also troubling, Palacios said, is that many residents are employed in minimumwage industries in a county where $18 an hour is considered the least amount necessary to support a two-parent, two-child family. At 47 percent, Latinos were twice as likely to fall short of the selfsufficiency income standard as whites, the report said.
“We need not only more jobs, but livable wage jobs because of the high cost of living in this county,” he said.
Perceptions can be misleading, said Judge John Salazar, presenting the criminal justice component. People are feeling less safe, according to the report. But he said violent crime has been declining during the past decade, and overall, crime declined 12 percent in the county between 2006 and 2012. Watsonville saw the biggest drop, 21 percent.
One area of concern, Salazar said, is teen drinking and driving, up 13 percent while adult arrests for drivingwhile drunk are down 20 percent.
Megan Joseph, director of community organizing at United Way, said while there’s room for improvement in meeting the needs of the county’s most vulnerable residents, governmental and social service agencies are working to tackle issues, such as homelessness and troubled youth. The 180/180 program, for instance, is making progress in its mission to house 180 of the county’s most medically at risk, chronically homeless people.
“We know what to do in this community. We just need to prioritize the solutions that work,” she said.
For more information on the CAP, visit www.unitedwaysc.org/community-assessment-project.