Poverty has tightened its grip on Stanislaus County, with more than 22 percent of the population living below the poverty line, data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau show.
While poverty rates declined nationwide and in California as a whole last year, they increased in Stanislaus and the Northern San Joaquin Valley, according to the 2013 American Community Survey.
That’s no surprise to charities that feed the poor.
“We’re seeing more people every day in our soup line,” said Maj. Kyle Trimmer of The Salvation Army Modesto Citadel. He said the number of people seeking shelter, emergency food boxes and help paying their utility bills also is increasing. “A lot of these people have lost their jobs.”
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The story is the same at Inter-Faith Ministries of Greater Modesto, which distributes bags of food to families in need.
“We have people lined up to the street waiting for food,” said Inter-Faith Chief Executive Officer Elizabeth Greenlee-Harrison. “The need is getting bigger and bigger. It’s really sad. … We have kids ripping open bags of food before getting to their car because they can’t wait to get something in their bellies.”
The Census Bureau numbers confirm how little money Valley folks have compared with those elsewhere in the state and nation.
On a per-person basis, Stanislaus residents earned 30.5 percent less money last year than those living elsewhere in California – just $22,556 each. That’s nearly $7,000 less than the typical Californian.
“It’s people you wouldn’t expect” turning to charities these days, Greenlee-Harrison said. “There are people who are hanging onto their houses by their fingernails. By the time they pay their bills, they don’t have money left at the end of the month for food.”
Unemployment benefits have run out for many laid-off workers, and job opportunities are scarce in Stanislaus.
“We also have the working poor here,” Greenlee-Harrison said. “Sometimes they’re working two or more part-time jobs, but it’s just not cutting it.”
Wages simply are lower in the Valley. Men working full time in Stanislaus earned a median $46,141 last year, which was 9 percent less than what men earned statewide. The gap is even wider for Stanislaus’ female full-time workers, who earned a median $36,054 – 17 percent less than women elsewhere in California.
To make matters worse, some of California’s most prosperous communities appear to be shipping their homeless to the Valley.
“There’s a large influx from San Francisco,” Trimmer said. “People tell us they were given a bus pass in San Francisco to get to Modesto, and they were told there are jobs available here (in agriculture or food processing). It’s putting a big strain on the resources of our agency and others.”
The path out of poverty can be a long, difficult journey in Stanislaus.
“There’s no one silver bullet,” said the Rev. Michael Douglass, president of Advancing Vibrant Communities, a Modesto charity dedicated to helping those in need. “For some people whose families have lived in poverty for generations, that’s all they know. … A lot of them don’t think of anything beyond today.”
Douglass said many who grew up in poor families never were encouraged to get a good education or pursue a career, and so are not prepared to get ahead or to succeed in the world of work.
Stanislaus residents are significantly less educated than those elsewhere in the state or nation, and census data show the gap is widening.
Example: The percentage of Stanislaus adults who have earned a bachelor’s degree is only about half the California average.
There is less access to modern technology here, too. The census found that compared with those living elsewhere in California or the United States, Stanislaus residents are less likely to own a computer, tablet or smartphone, and fewer of them have Internet connections.
About 16 percent of Stanislaus residents don’t speak English very well, which is nearly twice the national average.
Forty percent of Stanislaus residents speak a language other than English in their homes, and that also is nearly double the national average.
As has been the trend for decades now, the percentage of white Stanislaus residents declined in 2013, while the percentage of Latinos increased.
Additional demographic statistics about every city and county in the nation are available on the Census Bureau website, http://factfinder2.census.gov, where the latest American Community Survey data will be posted today.