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A Tale Of Two Counties: Part One

news1-1Countywide community assessment report documents continued hardship for many Latinos

When comparing the trend lines of scores of interesting social and economic indictors in the recently released Santa Cruz County Community Assessment Project (CAP) 2012 Report, the data suggests many of the worst impacts of the Great Recession are beginning to wane and the county is on the mend. That is, unless you are Latino.

One finding, in particular, is emblematic of many statistically significant differences between White and Latino households across the county. When asked a catchall, quality of life question about how much residents “enjoy their life,” 80 percent of White CAP telephone survey respondents reported enjoying their lives “to a great extent,” while less than half of Latino respondents (48 percent) reported the same.

A major factor in enjoying life may have to do with having a job. According to the telephone survey, which is conducted by CAP Report author Applied Survey Research,  unemployment was almost 57 percent higher among Latinos (14.9 percent) than Whites (9.5 percent), with the overall unemployment rate averaging 12.1 percent countywide in 2011.

There is some good news, however: overall unemployment is down slightly from last year, to 9.9 percent as of June 2012. For the first time since 2007, total, net employment in all industries actually grew by 1,200 jobs between 2010 and 2011. But farm industries countywide reported the loss of 900 jobs between 2010 and 2011, and Watsonville continues to report more than double the City of Santa Cruz’s unemployment rate (21 percent compared to 8.2 percent), according to the state’s Employment Development Department, as reported in the CAP 2012 report. 

news1-2According to the 2012 CAP Report, 54 percent of students enrolled at local public K-12 schools last year were Latino or Hispanic, and 29 percent are designated as English Language Learners. At a Nov. 19 press conference debuting the 2012 CAP, Bonnie Lipscomb, executive director of the City of Santa Cruz’s economic development department, recognized the growing disparity between White and Latino communities as significant “indicators of concern,” especially with regard to unemployment and affordable housing. “What’s even more concerning,” Libscomb said at the conference, “is the disparity in unemployment between Whites and Latinos has been growing over the last 10 years,” with unemployment rising by 11.2 percent for Latinos and just 2.2 percent for White residents in the county over the last decade.  

The lack of affordable housing continues to hit Latinos the hardest, with 85 percent of Latino households spending more than 30 percent of total take-home pay on housing costs, compared to 46 percent of White households. However, median rents have decreased slightly from the last year, which has not been the case in many other housing markets in the state, Libscomb said. Foreclosures are down, from a high of 1,643 Notices of Default (the first step in the foreclosure process) issued in 2009 to 1,150 issued in 2011.

 Measured by the federal poverty standard, poverty decreased slightly for local children and seniors between 2010 and 2011, but the number of “working age” people between 18 and 64 years old living below the poverty standard increased slightly by 1.2 percent between 2010 and 2011. The total number of “working age” people living below the federal poverty standard in Santa Cruz County rose a total six percentage points since 2007, from 10 percent to 16 percent.      

The 2012 CAP Report provides a snapshot of current census data, reporting that about 33 percent of Santa Cruz County’s total population of about 264,000 is Latino. Most Latino residents reside in South County, with about 81 percent of Watsonville residents reporting themselves as Hispanic or Latino, and just shy of 20 percent reporting themselves as Hispanic or Latino within the City of Santa Cruz.  Libscomb mentioned that in the next few years, the number of Latino residents in California overall is expected to surpass non-Latino White residents. In light of this trend, “housing affordability and unemployment may continue to rise locally if focused efforts are not made to address these downward trends,” Libscomb said.

The recently released report—the 18th annual CAP—also includes a thorough review of education statistics and test scores, detailed by school district, noting that more than half (54 percent) of students enrolled in public K-12 schools were Hispanic/Latino last school year, and 38 percent were White. About 27 percent of county residents speak Spanish at home, and 29 percent of K-12 students countywide are designated as English Learner students, a special status requiring more resources in the classroom. This is slightly higher than the statewide average of 23 percent of students designated as English Learners. Nearly half of the student body in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District (PVUSD) were English Learners last school year.

 “Although I haven’t had a chance to really study this year’s report,” says “O.T.” Quintero, assistant director of Barrios Unidos, “it won’t surprise me at all that Latinos are overrepresented in practically every area of social distress. When you look at school dropout rates, juvenile arrests, and indicators of poverty, Latinos always make up far more than their proportionate share of the problem areas.” 

Barrios Unidos, which is coming up on its 20th anniversary, is a nonprofit dedicated to reducing youth violence, juvenile delinquency and gang affiliation. “The data that I see consistently, for both education and employment,” says Quintero, “has not favored Latinos climbing the ladder upward to the American Dream.”

Just as Quintero expected, Latino teenagers are nearly twice as likely to drop out of high school than White students (16.5 percent compared to 8.8 percent), and, although the overall juvenile arrest rate is down, Latino juveniles account for more than 58 percent of juvenile arrests, compared to 36 percent of arrested juveniles who are White, according to the report. Eighty-nine percent of teen births in the county were to Latina teens, compared to 9 percent to White teens (ages 19 and under).

The overall dropout rate ticked up from 11.2 percent in the 2009/10 school year to 12.7 percent last school year, with schools in PVUSD having disproportionately high dropout rates. Nonetheless, overall satisfaction with local schools hit a 10-year high in 2011 with 86 percent of survey respondents reporting that they are “very” or “somewhat” satisfied with their local school system. 

The perception that racism is “a big problem” in Santa Cruz County varied widely between Whites and Latinos, and changed dramatically between 2009 (not long after a few gang-related murders in Santa Cruz) and 2011. In 2009, almost 14 percent of White respondents across the county thought racism was “a big problem,” and only 8 percent of Latinos agreed. Two years later, these ratios nearly flipped—the number of Latinos reporting racism as “a big problem” nearly doubled to 15.6 percent, and the number of Whites continuing to consider racism “a big problem” dropped to 8.3 percent.

The number of “hate crime events,” a term with a precise legal definition not necessarily related to race, in the county more than doubled from 18 reported crimes in 2010 to 40 in 2011, according to the California Department of Justice.

The annual CAP “quality of life” assessments are carefully reviewed by many public and nonprofit service providers and funding organizations for purpose of the independent analysis of the outcomes of many public services and social welfare programs that target areas looked at in the report. Most of the primary data is based on a bi-annual telephone survey of more than 100 questions, providing representative samples from different areas and ethnicity across the county. The margin of error in the survey results is less than 4 percent.   


Check back next week for part two of “A Tale of Two Counties,” when GT takes a look at what solutions, if any, are rising to meet the disproportionate challenges faced by Latinos in Santa Cruz County.

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