New report finds both positive and negative social and economic trends in the county
The 20th annual Community Assessment Project (CAP) report was released on Monday, Nov. 24, offering insight into the county’s social and economic trends over the past year. The organization behind the report hopes it will inspire local groups and individuals alike to enact change.
“We hope that the Community Assessment Project, in its acknowledgment of the actions of the community of heroes, of the disparities, and by setting the community goals, becomes a way for people to get involved, and to celebrate the good things, and keep their eye on the things that aren’t working,” says Susan Brutschy, president of Applied Survey Research (ASR).
ASR, a nonprofit social-research firm based in Watsonville, collects and aggregates the data in the CAP report. The group works in conjunction with United Way of Santa Cruz County, Dominican Hospital, and other organizations to give the public a snapshot of life in Santa Cruz County using six categories—from the social environment to the natural.
In two years, the cost of housing in the county has increased dramatically. The median sale price for homes in the Santa Cruz-Watsonville Metro area was $535,000 in 2014, up from $376,000 in 2012.
Renters haven’t fared much better. The number of affordable housing units available to median-income families in the Santa Cruz-Watsonville area decreased to 21 percent in 2014, from about 54 percent in 2012. For reference, the average percentage of homes affordable to median-income families in the United States is 65.5 percent. The Department of Housing and Urban Development recommends people do not spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, and calculates affordability based on that criteria. The average rent for two bedrooms was $1,750 per month in 2014.
The overall crime rates in the county are down from 34.3 reported crimes per 1,000 residents in 2013 to 37.7 in 2011. The city of Watsonville experienced the largest drop in crime, with a decrease of 24 percent since 2007. The total number of crimes reported in Watsonville decreased 42 percent from 2007 to 2013.
The city of Santa Cruz also experienced a sharp decrease in crime rates. In 2011, the crime rate for Santa Cruz was 92 crimes per 1,000 residents. That dropped to 57 in 2013.
Despite the fact that crime rates are down, the percentage of CAP survey respondents who felt “very concerned” about crime in Santa Cruz County increased from 36 percent in 2011 to 47 percent in 2013.
Crimes reported among the younger generation also declined substantially. Juvenile arrests in the county dropped from a total of 1,722 in 2007 to 686 in 2013—a decrease of 60 percent. The total number of juvenile drug arrests decreased from 277 in 2008 to 58 in 2013.
Highs and lows
The consumption of alcohol and drugs has also gone down in county youths. Since 2008, self-reported marijuana consumption by 11th grade students declined from 30 percent in 2008/2009 to 26 percent in 2012/2014, and alcohol consumption dropped from 41 percent in the 2008/2009 school year to 34 percent in 2012/2014.
An overall average of 16 percent of respondents surveyed felt that it was acceptable to give a minor alcohol in the home, which leads to another disparity between whites and Latinos in the county. Of the white respondents, 20 percent felt that it was acceptable to provide alcohol to a minor in the home, while only 5 percent of Latinos felt that it was acceptable. Concerning marijuana use, 60 percent of white survey respondents felt that it was acceptable to consume marijuana for recreational use, and only 21 percent of Latinos felt the same.
The economy of Santa Cruz County has been steadily improving since the recession. The county’s unemployment rate has decreased from its height of 13 percent in 2010 to 7 percent in June 2014. Job growth is on the rise from a low in 2010 of 94,800 jobs in the county to 101,500 in 2013. Per capita personal income and median family income also increased from 2010, with the average family income at $82,904.
Of those surveyed in 2013, one third of respondents stated that they were better off financially in 2013 than in 2012 overall, but there was a high disparity between the answers given by white and Latino respondents. Of the white respondents, about 36 percent stated they were better off in 2013 than the previous year, but only 25 percent of Latino respondents felt they were better off financially than they were in 2012—a decrease from 28 percent in 2011.
For the respondents who felt that they were worse off financially in 2013 than in 2012, the main overall reason given was the high cost of living in the county. Latino respondents cited less income as the reason they felt worse off, but the economic differences between the two populations don’t end there.
Although the overall unemployment rates are down in the county, among the Latino respondents surveyed, 15.7 percent were unemployed in 2013 compared with the 6 percent of white respondents. Of those surveyed, 67 percent of Latino respondents claimed to spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs compared to the approximately 41 percent of whites, which parallels the figures regarding self-sufficiency income standards.
A self-sufficiency income standard for California is the amount of money a household requires to meet basic needs without requiring public assistance, and varies by region. Currently, the hourly self-sufficiency wage in Santa Cruz County is just above $14 an hour. Among the Latino survey respondents, 63 percent of households did not meet the self-sufficiency income standards compared to about 26 percent of white respondents.
Lifestyle discrepancies transcend simple economics too. Fifteen percent of Latino CAP survey respondents reported feeling so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row that they stopped doing some usual activities, compared to 10 percent of white respondents. Half of Latino respondents reported being “very satisfied” with their quality of life, compared with 72 percent of whites.
The report does give cause for optimism—giving out community hero awards to 18 hard-working county denizens, many of them in healthcare, education and various charities. The winners, from groups like GOKIDS and Dientes, helped the county reach various goals in areas like economic growth.
To view the report, visit www.appliedsurveyresearch.org. PHOTO: Workers put touches on the new Riverwalk Apartments, which will provide affordable units, a missing element locally according to a new report. JACOB PIERCE