Much work has been done to narrow gaps in education, employment and health that Latino residents of Sonoma County say they experience in relation to the mainstream population, but further inroads need to be made to boost incomes, voter participation and representation in elected seats, advocates said Thursday.
With the county’s Latino population on a steady rise — it now makes up a quarter of the overall population — action in the public and private sector will be needed to ensure that the next generations have ample and equal opportunities for economic development and civic engagement, speakers said in a half-day conference in Santa Rosa that evaluated the state of the Latino community.
“We, as a community, can create the blueprint,” said Herman Hernandez, president of Los Cien, the Latino leadership organization that put together the event at the Flamingo Conference Resort and Spa. Los Cien’s own growth, from nine members at its inception five years ago to more than 300 now, reflects the emergence of Latino leaders and greater visibility of Latino businesses and organizations.
“Even though our efforts at times might seem small, if they are sincere, their success is certain,” Hernandez said.
The event drew several hundred people, including nonprofit and business leaders; educators; local, state and federal officials; and candidates for public office.
Both of the county’s congressmen — Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena — were in the audience, as was Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, and four of the county’s five supervisors.
Over four hours Thursday morning, speakers tackled topics ranging from lack of quality preschools to the number of Latinos with untreated mental health problems.
The disparities with the majority population have long been known within the Latino community, but their existence has been highlighted in greater clarity over the past few years.
A recently released report, “A Portrait of Sonoma County,” compiled by the county’s Health Services department, found that whites, who comprise two-thirds of the county’s population, fare better across a range of measures of well-being — including education, health, income and life expectancy — than Latinos do. In an index expressed on a scale of zero to 10, whites had a score of 6.01, while Latinos scored lowest at 4.27.
“If we want to have a strong county, we need to close the achievement gap for Latinos,” said Oscar Chavez, the county’s assistant director of Human Services.
Poverty, a big problem across California, has affected the state’s Latino residents at a greater rate than the total population.
About a third of Latinos in California live in poverty, according to the event’s keynote speaker, David Grusky, a Stanford University sociology professor who heads its Center on Poverty and Inequality. Overall, nearly 1 in 4 Californians lives in poverty, he said.
Part of the problem for low- income households is the treatment of childhood education as a commodity, he argued. Poor families don’t have the means to pay for high-quality preschools and other training for their children, he said. As a result, they fall behind in school and later in life don’t have access to higher-wage jobs. There aren’t enough low-skill jobs to go around, and the demand for those kinds of jobs keeps wages low, he said.