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2021 Portrait of Sonoma County: Well-being study finds new successes, ongoing challenges along race, ethnicity, gender and geographic lines

2021 Portrait of Sonoma County virtual forum

What: An overview of the key points found in the 2021 Portrait of Sonoma County

When: Wednesday, Jan. 26 at 6 p.m.

How to watch: Attendees are asked to register for the Zoom event at the following link: https://marincf.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_lQlB32UlTGefPQ1I_SkS0Q

Sonoma County residents as a whole make more money, live longer and are more likely to have a bachelor’s degree than nearly 10 years ago.

But there are some areas of distress: Disparities in health, education and wealth across race, ethnicity, gender and geographic lines have stunted progress for some locals, particularly those who are Black, Latino or members of other minority groups.

These are the findings outlined in the 2021 Portrait of Sonoma County, released by county officials Wednesday morning. The 44-page review is a second, more condensed iteration of a similar report commissioned by county officials in 2014.

Both studies were compiled by the New York-based social science research nonprofit Measure of America, an agency that uses government data related to health, education and income to calculate the American Human Development Index, or HDI, of specific areas and demographic groups.

The index measures the well-being of specific groups using a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the highest score.

(Graphic by Elissa Torres/The Press Democrat)
(Graphic by Elissa Torres/The Press Democrat)

Overall the 2021 update of the report found that Sonoma County’s HDI score has increased to 6.19, up from 5.42 based on 2012 data that was collected and analyzed in the 2014 report. Sonoma County’s HDI also surpasses California’s HDI score of 5.85.

Since the 2014 Portrait of Sonoma County was released, local residents’ median earnings have increased by about $7,000 and life expectancy rose by 1.2 years to 82.2 years. The rate of Sonoma County adults who are at least 25 years old and who hold bachelor’s degrees also increased 6 percentage points* to 37.8%, the new 44-page report finds.

But a breakdown of those well-being scores by race, ethnicity, gender and geography reveals disparities in several areas, the newest Portrait of Sonoma County shows.

Those issues are compounded, according to the report, by both long-standing and new challenges within the county, such as an affordable housing shortage, recurring wildfires and the COVID-19 pandemic. Those issues also disproportionately harm residents who are Black, Latino, or members of other racial minorities, inequities that are the result of local policies, the report adds.

“The inequalities that exist today are not natural or inevitable, nor are they a product of chance; they are the result of policy decisions made by people in power,” the report states. “Different decisions, made through different, more inclusive decision-making processes, can lead to better, fairer outcomes.”

While men and women in Sonoma County have similar well-being scores, despite women earning $11,500 less than men, metrics used to evaluate the health, wealth and education of local racial and ethnic groups vary, the portrait finds.

The most notable change is in Sonoma County’s Black community, whose Human Development Index score dipped to 3.99 in 2021, down from 4.68 in 2014.

This group has a life expectancy of 71 years, which is 10 years shorter than any other racial and ethnic group in the county, according to 2021’s findings. In the 2014 report, the life expectancy of Black residents in Sonoma County was 77.7 years.

In addition, among local adults 25 years or older who have a college degree, only 32.1% of Black community members have undergraduate degrees compared to the county average of 37.8%.

(Graphic by Elissa Torres/The Press Democrat)
(Graphic by Elissa Torres/The Press Democrat)

Asian residents continued to have the highest HDI scores among the largest racial and ethnic groups locally, though their scores dropped from 7.10 to 6.86, the latest report finds.

The well-being of white and Latino residents, overall, has improved slightly since the 2014 report. The data from the 2021 Portrait of Sonoma County noted, however, that Latino residents still have significantly lower educational attainment rates. More than a third of all Latino adults age 25 or older are without a high school diploma.

The decreased HDI score for Black residents came as a surprise to Faith Ross, the co-founder of Petaluma Blacks for Community Development.

She hopes the data will bolster her efforts to convince county leaders to reserve a portion of federal COVID-19 relief dollars for groups representing minority communities in Sonoma County, including her organization.

“This report, I think, will help us make the connection in saying, ‘We need those funds and these are the reasons,’” Ross said.

Another clear example of disparity in the 2021 report is found in comparisons between Sonoma County’s highest and lowest ranking census tracts — Santa Rosa’s East Bennett Valley and the city’s Roseland neighborhoods, respectively.

2021 Portrait of Sonoma County virtual forum

What: An overview of the key points found in the 2021 Portrait of Sonoma County

When: Wednesday, Jan. 26 at 6 p.m.

How to watch: Attendees are asked to register for the Zoom event at the following link: https://marincf.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_lQlB32UlTGefPQ1I_SkS0Q

The gap in their scores means residents in East Bennett Valley now have median earnings of just over $48,000 more and life expectancy rates that are nine years longer than people living in the Roseland neighborhood. There are also nearly 48% more adults in East Bennett Valley who have bachelor’s degrees, the new report finds.

Among the pieces of good news in the 2021 report, only four of the 99 neighborhoods that make up Sonoma County have well-being scores that fall below 4 on the HDI scale. They are Roseland, Comstock (3.46), Bicentennial Park (3.68) and the Rohnert Park B/C/R Section (3.75).

Sebastopol Road, Roseland's unofficial main street is jammed with after school traffic.  (Press Democrat file photo)
Sebastopol Road, Roseland's unofficial main street is jammed with after school traffic. (Press Democrat file photo)

That was an improvement from 2014, when the portrait found three areas had Human Development Index scores under 3 points and 10 more that scored below 4.

The 2021 report also looked at the impact of COVID-19 on Sonoma County, finding that the pandemic caused setbacks in various aspects of daily life for a broad swath of people.

For example, one in five young people who said they were significantly impacted by either recent fires or the pandemic considered suicide during the past year — rates that are two to three times higher than their peers who said they were not significantly impacted, the report says.

Of Sonoma County’s hospitality and tourism workers, an industry that’s been heavily affected by COVID-19, nearly 27%, or 6,000 people, lost their jobs, the report finds.

It also found that the upswing in home prices, which have increased by 40% over the past five years, correlates with an influx of people who moved to Sonoma County from urban centers during the pandemic.

In addition, the report finds that about 1 of every 2 renters in the county spends more than 30% of their income on rent — a burden that Latino and Black renters were more likely to have than their white or Asian counterparts.

(Graphic by Elissa Torres/The Press Democrat)
(Graphic by Elissa Torres/The Press Democrat)

Jen Klose, the executive director for Generation Housing, a local housing advocacy nonprofit, said that data made sense given that the construction of homes in Sonoma County has long failed to keep pace with local demand.

In order to improve the situation, local leaders should prioritize polices that make it quicker and cheaper to build housing in Sonoma County, Klose said. Changing exclusionary zoning policies to allow property owners to build more homes on their lots could also be another remedy, she added.

“We have a great imbalance of folks who are working hard jobs for low wages,” Klose said. “But we don’t have enough homes at an affordable level.”

Wednesday’s report also revisited goal posts set in the 2014 version of the study to determine what progress, if any, the county has made in three key focus areas: health, access to education and standards of living.

That section of the report contained some markers of progress, including data that shows the number of residents without health insurance dropped from 15% to 6% while median earnings jumped from $30,214 to $40,183.

The number of people living in poverty has been cut nearly in half since the 2014 report, when 12.1% of residents were classified as such. The most recent data shows that number is at 6.4% in Sonoma County, according to the report.

According to the 2021 Portrait of Sonoma County, the local upswing in home prices, which have increased by 40% over the past five years, correlates with an influx of people who moved to Sonoma County from urban centers during the pandemic. (Press Democrat file photo)
According to the 2021 Portrait of Sonoma County, the local upswing in home prices, which have increased by 40% over the past five years, correlates with an influx of people who moved to Sonoma County from urban centers during the pandemic. (Press Democrat file photo)

Other goals have slipped further out of reach. For example, the yearly cost to send Sonoma County children to preschool has risen from $9,500 to $11,400.

Decreasing the rate of people who are rent burdened in Sonoma County was also a priority, though the recent report found that 52.4% of local households pay 30% or more of their income on rent compared to the 45.7% nearly a decade prior.

“Those inequalities are grounded in historical disinvestment and racism, and the remedy is to address that current injustice with loving attention and equitable resources now,” Sonoma County Office of Equity Director Alegría De La Cruz said in a news release.

A virtual forum scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday will go over the report’s key findings. Community members will also be invited to participate in the creation of an action plan that will guide local policy and investment decisions related to the inequities found in the report, county staff said.

The meeting will be hosted by local leaders who helped with the creation of the 2021 Portrait of Sonoma County, as well as On the Margins, a San Francisco-based consulting, coaching and therapy business.

*Editor’s Note: Since the 2014 findings, the rate of Sonoma County adults who are at least 25 years old and who hold bachelor’s degrees increased 6 percentage points to 37.8%, according to the 2021 Portrait of Sonoma County. A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the amount of increase in that data.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.

Nashelly Chavez

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, The Press Democrat 

Who calls the North Bay home and how do their backgrounds, socioeconomic status and other factors shape their experiences? What cultures, traditions and religions are celebrated where we live? These are the questions that drive me as I cover diversity, equity and inclusion in Sonoma County and beyond.   

 

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