Los Cien group launches broad look at inequality between Latinos and whites in Sonoma County

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Sonoma County’s largest Latino leadership group announced Thursday the start of a decadelong effort to track major indicators of social, economic and political disparity between whites and Latinos with an aim of promoting greater equality in the region.

The campaign, labeled “Closing the Gaps,” will be driven in part by a Sonoma County Latino Scorecard that identified 10 categories “where we see the greatest disparity for Latinos in our county,” Oscar Chavez, assistant director of the county’s Human Services Department, told an audience of 650 people who packed a Sonoma State University ballroom.

“For the first time, we’re taking a deep dive into how to change the conditions on a local level,” Chavez said in an interview, calling the scorecard “a grand experiment.”

Chavez was one of three speakers at the sixth annual State of the Latino Community in Sonoma County symposium hosted by Los Cien, the leadership group nearing the 10-year anniversary of its founding in a back room at a Santa Rosa restaurant.

Leah Murphy, a Human Services analyst, described the 10 data points called out in the scorecard, with two each in the categories of politics, education, finances, social issues and health.

“At times it may feel a little bit depressing, talking about one disparity after another,” she said.

Eleven percent of elected officials serving on the county’s city councils or Board of Supervisors are Latino and the remainder are white, according to the scorecard.

Other points included:

A quarter of Latino children enter kindergarten ready to learn, compared with nearly half (46%) of white children.

Latino median household income is $59,000 a year, while white households make $76,000, and Murphy noted that $89,000 is needed to meet the basic needs of a family of four. “A lot of us aren’t there yet,” she said.

Nearly two-thirds (65%) of Latinos live in low-income neighborhoods, compared with 36% of whites.

One-third of Latino adults are obese, compared with 23% of whites, a condition Murphy said carries the risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer, along with high medical expenses.

Murphy also highlighted the statistic that 11% of the county’s Latinos have a bachelor’s degree or more education, compared with 39% of whites.

A college degree isn’t the only path to a good income, she said, noting that trade jobs pay well, but Murphy said an associate degree boosts median income by about $8,000 and a bachelor’s degree typically adds $22,000.

In closing, Chavez said the scorecard presents “a very ambitious work plan” and Los Cien, over the next 10 years, will regularly check the data, seek strategies to reduce disparity and consider “how can we mobilize our community to get it done.”

David Rabbitt, chairman of the Board of Supervisors and one of many local officials in attendance, said the county works on numerous issues “to ensure the next generation can be even more successful than the last.”

Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said in an interview she appreciated Los Cien’s identification of “very real economic and achievement gaps focused on ethnicity.”

“We can’t be color blind,” she said. “We have to recognize that people of color face socioeconomic barriers and we need to address those.”

Aneesh Raman, an advisor in the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, described disparity on a statewide level.

“We are both the richest and the poorest state in the nation,” he said, noting that California — a national leader in manufacturing, technology, trade and agriculture — also has 1 in 5 children living at or below the poverty line.

“We have people driving two hours each day each way between affordable housing and quality jobs,” he said. “Our economy is not working for the majority of Californians.”

On the plus side, Raman, a former speech writer for President Barack Obama, said there are 800,000 Latino-owned businesses in California and 1 in 4 new businesses nationwide is owned by Latinos and they contribute $700 billion a year in sales to the economy.

Marlene Orozco, a research analyst with the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative, presented a profile of Sonoma County-based Latino entrepreneurs, finding 7% of the Latino workforce is self-employed, 54% posted profits in the past year and 98% came from low-income or lower middle-income families.

The average age of Latino entrepreneurs is 47, 42% are women, 72% are immigrants and 24% have a four-year college degree.

“It’s important for Sonoma County to embrace these immigrant entrepreneurs,” she said.

Presidential candidate Juliàn Castro, who was listed as a speaker for the conference, skipped his scheduled appearance and apologized later in the day for missing the program, explaining that he took time to do media interviews in San Francisco related to the impeachment push in the House of Representatives.

Castro was at El Gallo Negro restaurant in Windsor for a fundraising stop Thursday afternoon.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.

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