Our valley is one of the most bountiful in the world. When it comes to growing things, we are the Valley of Plenty.
Unfortunately, that's not what we are more commonly called.
In 1992, Marsena Buck, then the county's social services director, coined the term "valley of the poor." The Bee picked up the phrase and produced an award-winning series of articles over 10 days that detailed the depth of poverty in Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties.
Twenty years later, it's gotten worse. Much, much worse. Reporter J.N. Sbranti detailed many of the numbers in a story and on a graphic on Thursday.
Census Bureau numbers show that nearly 1 in 4 Stanislaus County residents live below the official U.S. poverty line. In Merced County, it's a little higher and in San Joaquin the ratio is roughly 1-in-5. Such numbers are jaw dropping. What they represent is gut wrenching.
In 1992, we were coming out of what we then considered a deep recession. In the "Valley of the Poor" series, The Bee's writers described children getting their only complete meals at school; teachers and church employees scrambling to find shoes and T-shirts to clothe them; and young families being forced out of homes.
In 2012, most of the nation is emerging from a far more serious recession, created, in part, by the collapse of housing prices in 2008 which, in turn, sparked a national foreclosure crisis that saw some of its highest numbers and worst repercussions in this region. But our area lags. The stories we told about homeless young people or seniors going without medical care are just as true today as they were then.
Without moving, we have returned to the Valley of the Poor. Here are some numbers to think about:
$19,090 For a family of three (which is the average household in our region), that's the official U.S. poverty line, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For a family of five, it's $27,010.
23.8 percent That's the percentage of Stanislaus residents currently living below the official poverty line.
122,500 That's the number of people who are living in poverty in this county today, according to Census Bureau calculations. That's more than the combined populations of Turlock, Oakdale, Riverbank and Hughson.
14.1 percent That was the percentage of Stanislaus County residents who lived below the official government poverty line in 1992, when the term "Valley of the Poor" came into being and members of Congress were referring to our region as the "Appalachia of the West." There were around 400,000 people living in the county at that time, meaning that roughly 56,400 were poor and qualified for various forms of government assistance.
66,100 That's the increase in the number of impoverished people from 1992 to 2012 in other words, the number of people qualifying for government assistance in one or more ways has more than doubled (up 117 percent) in the past 20 years.
27,500 That's the number of families with a combined household income of less than $24,999 a year. That means a lot of people have jobs and are likely working hard at them but the ends still don't meet.
2, 6, 9 Responding to the startling numbers reported in 1992, the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors appointed two commissions to respond and develop recommendations. The Blue Ribbon Committee had six public hearings on specific topics and developed nine specific recommendations.