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Sonoma County ranks fifth in California for women's well-being

Women fare better in Sonoma County than in almost any other county in California, according to a new report that examines the lives of women through a prism of 30 different statistical measurements on everything from child care costs to crime.

Sonoma County was ranked the fifth-best place in California for women's well-being, according to an index developed by the California Budget & Policy Center, a Sacramento nonprofit focused on improving the economic and social well-being of low- and middle- income Californians.

The index ranks the state's 58 counties in five different core areas: health, personal safety, political empowerment, economic security, and employment and earnings. Those ranks, in turn, are based on measurements of women's well-being in 30 categories.

Sonoma County, for example, was the top-ranked county in the cost of child care, as a share of median income. Single mothers spend 44.7 percent of their income on child care, the lowest in the state, according to the report.

“Yes, we are first, but it's still very difficult to afford,” said Lara Magnusdottir, public policy director for the Community Child Care Council, or 4Cs, of Sonoma County, which works to provide affordable child care for Sonoma County families. “It just goes to show how expensive child care is statewide.”

The number of child care providers has been declining in Sonoma County, said Magnusdottir, whose group tracks the cost, supply and demand for child care in the county. Very few child care centers provide infant care or after-hours child care, she said. For those services, mothers must rely on family child care, which is less regulated.

Magnusdottir said she was “flabbergasted” by the county's high ranking for the affordability of child care. In Sonoma County, child care for an infant costs, on average, $13,814 a year at a child care center and $9,814 in family child care, Magnusdottir said. Preschool is a little less expensive: $9,814 at a center, and $8,790 in family care.

“(With the economy improving), people are getting back to work,” she said. “And the prices are going up.”

Only four of the state's 58 counties earned higher rankings for the overall well-being of women: Marin, San Mateo, Placer and El Dorado counties. Napa ranked seventh overall and Mendocino 28th. Lake County was second to last in the state, ahead of only Kings County.

The report, done in partnership with the Women's Foundation of California, shows that finding affordable housing presents a major problem for single mothers. In California, housing costs take up 60.1 percent of the median income of single mothers, and the problem is worse among minority groups. For black single mothers, that figure rises to 70.9 percent of their income. For Latinas, it's 74 percent, and for Native Americans, it's 75.8 percent. Caucasian mothers, on the other hand, spend just 42.1 percent of their income on housing.

Unsurprisingly, the problem is the worst in San Francisco County, where single mothers overall spend 64.7 percent of their income on housing. In Sonoma County, they spent 36.9 percent of their income on housing, the fourth-lowest rate in the state.

According to Cynthia Murray, president and CEO of the North Bay Leadership Council, it's the lack of these basic sources of security that present the most barriers to women looking to succeed.

“The biggest thing we can do is help with education, because for me education is the linchpin in virtually any of these categories,” she said. “If you have higher education, you have a better chance of having a good job, which gives you a better chance at having better housing, and afford child care, and be healthier.

“We need to encourage more businesses and individuals to do internships, mentorships, to seek scholarships - those things that take down barriers for people to pursue that higher level of education,” Murray said.

The report comes on the heels of a recent list by U.S. News & World Report that named Santa Rosa the fourth-best city in California to live in, based on cost of living, climate and community.

For the full report on women's wellness, go to calbudgetcenter.org/resources/womens-well-being.

You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 521-5205 or christi.warren@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @SeaWarren.

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