The Orange County Register, December 1, 2017
By Deepa Bharath
Don’t be fooled by California’s increasing diversity. Racial and ethnic inequity remains a key problem and a potential barrier to future growth, according to Race Counts, a new Web tool that measures racial and ethnic disparities in the state’s 58 counties.
Marin County, for example — one of the wealthiest and most socially progressive communities in America — ranks dead last when it comes to racial inequities in several key factors, according to the data.
Likewise, the four county Southern California region — Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino — are struggling with racial inequity in areas as basic as income, education, healthcare and incarceration, the data shows.
Unveiled Nov. 14 by Advancement Project California, a Los Angeles-based civil rights group that worked on the project with USC’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity and the immigration rights group PICO National Network and California Calls, the study examines seven specific measures — economic opportunity, healthcare access, education, housing, democracy, crime and justice, and environment. The group then tracked publicly accessible data to show how Caucasians, Latinos, Asians and African Americans fare in each category.
The end result offered two measures of performance — how all residents in a county are faring, collectively, on the seven categories, and, secondly, how each racial or ethnic group fares when compared with the best performing group in the same county.
John Kim, executive director of the Advancement Project, said the goal was to shake Californians out of “their complacency” that the state’s progressive political bent and rising multiculturalism is translating into less racial inequity.
“This report is like an MRI scan,” Kim said. “(It) digs deeper, so we can see under the surface and identify the systems that need to be reinvented.
“In California, racial disparity seems to be accepted as the normal cost of doing business,” he added.
And as a “majority minority” state, that should not be acceptable any more, Kim said. “If we don’t solve these disparities, California is going to decline.”
The purpose of the study, Kim added, is not to point fingers or vilify any one group.
“There are places in California, like Kern and San Bernardino counties, where white communities are struggling,” he said. “So, the data also shows… we need to create new coalitions where we all work together toward progress and prosperity for all.”
Variations by county
In Southern California, counties varied in overall performance and in racial inequities.
For example, in Los Angeles County, African Americans are 13 times more likely to be incarcerated than are whites. Also, on a per capita basis, blacks in the county died at the hands of police four times more often than did whites in 2015, while Latinos died at the hands of police at nearly twice the rate of whites.
The study also showed significant disparities in housing in Los Angeles County, with Latinos three times more likely than whites to lack access to quality housing.
“We’re not talking about paint jobs here,” Kim said. “We have 36,000 Latino households that live in low-quality housing, and that means there’s no kitchen, plumbing or heating.”
Overall, Orange County has the lowest racial disparity among all counties in Southern California, but some stark differences remain. For example, the data shows the rate of truancy arrests is three times higher for Latinos and twice as high for African Americans than it is for Caucasian and Asian students.
It’s not a trivial problem.
“This criminalizes black and Latino youth very early on,” Kim said. “But the system doesn’t provide them with the services they need once they get out of prison.
Latinos are also much more likely to live in poverty in Orange County compared with Caucasian, Asian or African American residents. Also, when it comes to representation in city and county government, Latinos are most likely to be underrepresented.
San Bernardino is the lowest performing county in Southern California overall, based on the data studied, with struggles for all races in almost every category.
When it comes to racial disparities in San Bernardino County, the data pointed to a key problem — education. Blacks and Latinos in San Bernardino County are significantly less likely to have access to good schools when compared with county’s Asian and Caucasian residents.
In Riverside County, the biggest disparity comes in the form of political representation and action. Asians and Native Americans have zero representation in government in the county, while Latinos and Asians lag when it comes to voting in presidential and mid-term elections.
Is California really progressive?
Advancement Project’s racial disparity data clearly shows the challenges that lie ahead, said Manuel Pastor, director of USC’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, and one of the project partners.
“California has made some progress in terms of engagement, political representation and human relations. But we haven’t made progress in closing gaps in education, income and opportunity,” Pastor said.
“California pats itself on the back for being progressive with measures such as raising the minimum wage. But it’s the fourth most unequal state in the nation when it comes to income inequality.”
A progressive mentality hasn’t necessarily been matched by economic development and certainly hasn’t translated to policy changes, Pastor said.
Advancement Project hopes to update this data every two years so that progress — or the lack of it — can be tracked.
The data culled by the Race Counts project accurately reflects the stories social workers are hearing on the ground, said Aurea Montes-Rodriguez, executive vice president of Community Coalition, a nonprofit, which was founded in South Los Angeles in 1990 to combat the crack epidemic.
The data particularly rings true when it comes to racial disparity in incarceration rates, she said.
“There is no question that black and Latino residents feel more of an impact because they are unable to pay for bail and end up giving up their right to a fair trial,” Montes-Rodriguez said.
Latinos and African-Americans also tend to get into the prison system for traffic violations simply because they don’t have the money to pay fines.
“We’ve always known that race matters,” she said.
But for organizations like hers, this data sheds light on where the disparities are and provides information to make a stronger case for policies and legislative measures, Montes-Rodriguez said.
Disparity is obvious for those living with it
The data gels with reality in San Bernardino where racial disparity is pretty obvious to someone driving through the area, said the Rev. Samuel Casey, executive director of Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement (C.O.P.E) and pastor of New Life Christian Church in Fontana.
“This region is a food desert, and you can see that as you drive from a city like Redlands, where there’s a Sprouts Market and a Trader Joe’s, over to San Bernardino where we only have Stater Brothers and a bunch of mom-and-pop grocery stores that don’t usually stock fresh fruit and vegetables,” he said.
Casey’s group has worked with other organizations and hospitals to provide healthcare to undocumented residents and people living in poverty. “We sign people up for Medi-Cal on the spot by helping them fill out an application,” Casey said.
Even if the application is not completed, a number is generated, which helps them receive healthcare the same day, Casey said.
“We have both racial disparity and class disparity in this county,” he said.
Casey believes coming face to face with the type of data put forth by the Advancement Project can help communities move toward “changing the narrative of the region.”
“There is no strong middle class,” he said, referring to the Inland Empire.
“We have low-paying warehousing jobs. We need to re-imagine criminal justice without criminalizing African-American and Latino communities. We need to take these numbers and inform minority groups that they have the power to move the needle with active engagement.
“We have the power to change things for the better.”