Portrait of Sonoma Reveals Inequities

The recently released Portrait of Sonoma has revealed where we need to do more work to have equity.  Writing in 2021 Portrait of Sonoma County: Well-being study finds new successes, ongoing challenges along race, ethnicity, gender and geographic lines (Link), Nashelly Chavez says, 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.”

Chavez says, “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.”

Pointing out the inequities, Chavez says, “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.

One of the most glaring changes is in the Black community.  Chavez says, “The most notable change is in Sonoma County’s Black community, whose Human Development Index (HDI) 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.”

She adds, “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%.

“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,” says Chavez.

Another key finding in the report is “While 52% of all renters in Sonoma County use 30% or more of their income to pay rent, that average is higher in some minority communities — 59% of Latino renters and 68% of Black renters use 30% or more of their income to pay for housing.”

To begin to address the inequities revealed in the report, the Board of Supervisors will consider how to invest roughly $35 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds allocated for community investments later this year.

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