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Census shows toll of recession on North Coast

Almost one quarter of Lake County's population now lives in poverty, the U.S. Census Bureau said Tuesday.

According to the bureau's annual American Community Survey, the share of Lake County residents who have fallen below the federal poverty level rose from 17.4 percent in 2006 to 24.6 percent in 2009.

Even more dramatic, the survey found that the number of married couples living in poverty in Lake County has soared from 3.8 percent in 2006 to 14.2 percent in 2009.

Lake County now ranks second in overall poverty among the 40 California counties with populations greater than 65,000 people. Merced County ranked first with 25.4 percent of its residents in poverty.

In 2006, it Lake County ranked 12th.

The survey illustrates the devastating impact the recession has had on North Coast communities.

In Sonoma County, for example, the number of households on food stamps went from 4,641 in 2006 to 7,215 in 2009. In contrast, the median household income in Sonoma County, $62,368 in 2009, did not change much from what it was in 2006.

County officials said the actual number of households that received food stamps in 2009 is larger than what the Census Bureau has estimated, possibly because the federal government has a different definition of household.

Marion Deeds, director of the economic assistance division of Sonoma County Human Services, said at least 11,000 households received food stamps from July to December of 2009. What both federal and local data show is that the number of food stamp recipients is increasing.

"In 2009, their incomes might have dropped to the point where they qualified for the program," Deeds said.

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