Study: Over a third of Sonoma County households struggle to survive
A new report from a Federal Reserve-affiliated institute shows over one-third (36%) of working households in Sonoma County are unable to afford basic household necessities.
The profile of these households has expanded to an unconventional group consisting of firefighters, teachers, paramedics and “people who wait on us today,” a Federal Reserve economist told a crowd of more than 300 advocates from about 100 local community service groups gathered for a meeting on economic inequity.
“How do we affect change?” William Rodgers III, Ph.D., vice president and director of the Institute for Economic Equity at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, asked the group assembled Oct. 19 at Sonoma State University.
The Sonoma County Economic Development Board hosted the fall event that also featured an awards presentation before the keynote speaker, Rodgers, spoke.
“This is not solely about race,” Rodgers said, while sharing statistics that show economic inequity tends to disproportionately impact minorities such as Blacks and Latinos. He referenced the late civil rights activist, Martin Luther King, Jr., to illustrate a false premise that jobs are easy to come by and an all encompassing solution to economic stability.
Rodgers has coined a term, “ALICE,” to describe the population considered the “have nots.” The term stands for “Asset Limited Income Constrained & Employed” — essentially workers who lack the means and salary to pay for the things that matter. In some cases, the household breadwinners work at multiple jobs and still live paycheck to paycheck. The community bears the brunt of this burden, when a segment of society fails, Rodgers pointed out.
“When ALICE hurts, we all hurt,” he said.
Sonoma County’s households failing to make ends meet came in 5% and 7% lower than the United States and California, respectively, according to the institute’s report. The data also showed Marin, Solano, and Mendocino counties have 45%, 40%, and 48% of their households, respectively, struggling within their boundaries. Over half of Lake County residents fit this category.
“One of the challenges for Sonoma County is there’s a host of jobs on average that have lower wages,” Rodgers said, following the presentation.
He admitted the task may seem “overwhelming,” but the solutions may lie with understanding how the region got where it is. The poverty level has always plagued a segment of the population — especially one marked by a lack of activism to change worker conditions. Rodgers blamed “the decline of unions” as a major reason for the breakdown of prosperity for more people.