With nearly 1 in 4 residents living below the poverty line, the county’s economic well-being fell further behind America as a whole.
Family incomes nationwide edged up 1.4 percent last year, but in Stanislaus, they dropped 4.8 percent. Median-income Stanislaus families earned just $50,684 last year — $10,771 less than the national median.
The news was even worse for Modesto, where median family income fell a breathtaking 9.2 percent last year and the poverty rate jumped to a record-breaking 24.5 percent.
Modesto’s median family income peaked in 2008 at $61,407, but it’s been falling since the Great Recession took hold. In 2011, Modesto families earned just $48,652. That’s $13,155 less, a 21.4 percent drop, compared with four years ago.
The 2011 American Community Survey data — the Census Bureau’s comprehensive demographic gauge of the nation’s population — paints a troubling picture of the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
“I’m not surprised,” said Barbara England, who battles poverty every day as executive director of Interfaith Ministries of Greater Modesto. “We’ve been watching our numbers jumping by about 10,000 people per year.”
Interfaith Ministries provides once-a-month food baskets to poor families, who line up every morning outside its Modesto headquarters. Last year, the charity fed about 32,000 residents, but it’s on pace to exceed 40,000 in 2012.
“We’re seeing more and more new faces of people who have never asked for help before,” England said. “We’re getting more of the working poor now, like parents who have hourly jobs but aren’t getting as much work as they were before.”
With Stanislaus’ unemployment rate stuck near 16 percent, good-paying jobs are hard to find.
Fewer government jobs
Once-stable public service jobs have dwindled. The Census Bureau found about 3,000 fewer Stanislaus residents with government jobs in 2011 than it did in 2010. That reflects the widespread staff cuts made by public agencies throughout the region.
“A lot of public employees took pay cuts and (unpaid) furloughs, as well,” said Kelvin Jasek-Rysdahl, an economics professor at California State University, Stanislaus.
He blamed Stanislaus’ “shocking” poverty rate on the valley’s very deep recession, coupled with a national financial crisis.
“It’s a very long, slow recovery,” Jasek-Rysdahl said. He’s particularly concerned about the impact that prolonged poverty has on children.
Last year, 35.9 percent of Modesto children — and 33.2 percent of children countywide — were living in poverty.
“Many of our families are living on less than $10,000 per year,” said Heather Sherburn, principal of Orville Wright Elementary School in Modesto’s airport neighborhood — one of the county’s poorest residential areas. “We have a lot of families living in tents … or tripling up in homes with other families and surviving on food stamps.”
Fortunately for them, Orville Wright offers free breakfasts and lunches to every student every day. But getting poor kids fed isn’t the school’s only challenge.
“We’re always hunting for shoes for our kids because sometimes their shoes are so worn they’re literally falling off their feet,” Sherburn said. She said her staff also helps families get on government-funded health care programs and provides other services, such as teaching English-as-a-second-language classes to parents.
“We’re constantly trying to uplift, encourage and support families,” Sherburn said. But children suffer as their impoverished families shuffle from home to home. “There’s a lot of instability. So even with the best intentions, it’s hard for families to focus on educating their kids.”
Lasting impact on kids
Jasek-Rysdahl said poverty causes long-term, cumulative problems for children.
“These kids are not going to get the same opportunities as other youngsters,” said Jasek-Rysdahl. He said poor children often miss out on extracurricular activities, such as sports and fine arts, and lag behind technologically because they don’t have computers or Internet connections.
“This will affect them the rest of their lives. They’re always going to be trying to catch up,” Jasek-Rysdahl warned. “For a long time, their lives are going to be more difficult because they will have had fewer opportunities.”
Poor children are statistically more likely to end their education sooner than those from financially stable families. That ultimately costs them because better-educated adults typically land better-paying jobs.
And the education gap is widening between Stanislaus residents and Americans as a whole.
In 2011, the Census Bureau found only 75.9 percent of Stanislaus adults had completed high school, compared with 85.9 percent nationwide. The gap is wider for college graduates, with just 16.6 percent of Stanislaus adults having earned a bachelor’s degree, compared with 28.5 percent nationwide.
Here are some additional findings from the 2011 American Community Survey:
• Hispanics — Stanislaus’ population increased to 42.6 percent of all residents, while the white non-Hispanic population declined to 45.8 percent.
That’s dramatically different from 2000, when only 31 percent of county residents were Hispanic and 57 percent were white.
• Immigrants — Stanislaus’ percentage of foreign-born residents rose to 21 percent, compared with 13 percent for the nation as a whole.
• Languages — Nearly 42 percent of Stanislaus residents do not speak English in their homes. That’s more than double the national rate.
• Health insurance — Stanislaus residents not covered by health insurance rose to 18.6 percent, compared with just 15.1 percent nationwide.
Only 54.4 percent of county residents have private health insurance, compared with 65.2 percent nationally. But more Stanislaus residents get government-funded health care, 35.3 percent compared with 30.5 percent nationally.
• Homeownership — Fewer Stanislaus residents owned their own home last year. Less than 58 percent of homes in the county were owner-occupied in 2011, compared with 64 percent in 2006, which was before the foreclosure crisis began. The percentage of rental homes has increased as investors have snapped up bargain-priced homes repossessed by banks.
• Data online — The Census Bureau’s Web site posts thousands of statistics from the American Community Survey for communities throughout the nation. The information released today is for cities and counties that have 65,000 or more residents.
©2012 The Modesto Bee (Modesto, Calif.)
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