Report on disparities in Sonoma County expected next month
When comparing health, education and income, the gap between the highest- and lowest-ranked neighborhoods in Sonoma County has narrowed over the past decade.
Still, white residents earn upwards of $15,000 more than their Latino, Native American and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander counterparts. And, while the general well-being of local Latino, Asian and white residents has improved in that same time frame, the quality of life for Sonoma County’s Black residents has declined.
These preliminary findings, which were compiled by the New York-based social science research nonprofit Measure of America, were initially presented last month to Sonoma County Department of Human Services officials.
The presentation offered a preview of the group’s overall findings, which will be included in the forthcoming 2021 Portrait of Sonoma County, which is now set for release Dec. 1.
The report is a condensed and updated version of a 107-page Measure of America analysis that was previously commissioned by Sonoma County in 2014. The new findings will offer a closer look at disparities among the county’s neighborhoods, as well as any inequities that are present along gender, ethnic and racial lines.
To create the report, Measure of America researchers gather government data related to health, education and income to calculate the American Human Development Index of specific census tracts and demographic groups. The index then gauges a population’s well-being and ranks the various elements using a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the highest.
County leaders use the data to set goals for improvement in order to meet needs and erase discrepancies within the region.
The 2021 report will also include information about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the effects of recent issues and occurrences such as mental health, homelessness and wildfires, Sonoma County Department of Human Services Assistant Director Oscar Chavez said.
The goal of the report is for local governments, nonprofits, philanthropic groups and other institutions to better understand the disparities that exist in Sonoma County, and use that information to guide their priorities and the allocation of resources to those most in need, Chavez said.
“The portrait provides the opportunity to ask the right kind of questions,” Chavez said. “Part of the work moving forward is really to dig deep into the census tracts and ask ourselves, ‘What has happened here that has resulted in more opportunity for these residents?’”
According to its 2014 findings for Sonoma County, the report showed that white and Asian residents, the two groups with the highest median personal earnings, had the highest well-being scores among ethnic groups.
The census tract with the lowest Human Development Index score was Roseland Creek (2.79), located between West Avenue and Stony Point Road south of Sebastopol Road. Residents here had a median household income of $65,781 and were 66% Latino and 30% white, Measure of America found.
East Bennett Valley, which is 5 miles east of Roseland Creek, had the county's top index at 8.47. Its residents had a median household income of $125,922 and were 93% white, according to the 2014 report.
While females in Sonoma County lived four years longer on average and were better educated then their male counterparts, they earned about $8,600 less per year, the 2014 report also showed.
The newest version of the Sonoma County report cost $65,000 and is being funded by several local nonprofits, foundations and businesses — among them the Community Foundation Sonoma County, the Peter E. Haas Jr. Family Fund, Kaiser Permanente Northern California and the Sonoma County Office of Education, county officials say.
The Sonoma County Office of Equity and the Sonoma County Departments of Health Services and Human Services also are supporting Measure of America’s report. They’re doing it through community outreach with local stakeholders, translation services and other resources, Chavez said.
Sonoma County’s Equity Office Director Alegría De La Cruz, who is part of a team of county and community leaders who helped Measure of America develop the report, said the 2021 version will include important qualitative data, or first person accounts, that will help fill in the blanks for communities deemed too small to statistically analyze.
To get that information, the team sent Measure of America names of residents to interview. Those who agreed to participate were paid a stipend, she said.
“We do not want to contribute to the erasure of people who experience institutional marginalization,” De La Cruz added. “What we’ve said is ‘You should make sure you’re talking to people and people’s stories aren’t dismissed as anecdotal.’”
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