In Sonoma County, a troubling gap in health and well-being

Posted on January 27, 2022 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Sonoma County residents live longer, earn more money, stay in school and earn college degrees at higher rates than in other counties across California and the United States. Yet, according to a major new report, there are disparities across gender, racial groups, ethnic groups and individual neighborhoods.

The Portrait of Sonoma County 2021 Update delivers a mixed picture of health and well-being in the county.

“This report makes it painfully clear that certain racial groups and neighborhoods in our county continue to be much more vulnerable to suffering and experience loss of opportunity, said Oscar Chavez, assistant director of the Sonoma County Human Services Department. “It is imperative that we identify the conditions that lead to such varied experiences and work together to address these disparities.”

The report is a follow-up to the 2014 Portrait of Sonoma County.

The work is based on the Human Development Index (HDI), which looks at data on health, education and income as indicators of well-being for people in Sonoma County and compares across race, ethnicity, gender and geographic location. This index is designed to show that traditional measures of success, such as gross domestic product or economic prosperity, do not reflect the full picture of community well-being.

“The findings have major implications,” said Board of Supervisors Chair James Gore. “By understanding how our community is changing — and who is being left behind — this report will help us make targeted investments to improve the health and well-being of everyone in our community.”

Key findings in the updated report:

  • Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), and immigrant and undocumented community members persistently scored lower than other populations.
  • The Black community experienced the largest decline in HDI scores since 2014, while scores for Latinos have increased.
  • Latino, Native American, and Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Island residents of Sonoma County have the lowest median personal earnings among the major racial and ethnic groups, about $29,000, $29,000, and $26,000, respectively.
  • 69.3 percent of Black youth are enrolled in school compared to 77.1 percent of Latino youth and 87.8 percent of Asian youth.
  • The percentage of students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) — a plan that lays out the special education instruction, support and services a student with an identified disability needs to thrive in school — has increased in the Sonoma Valley Unified School District.
  • While the gap between neighborhoods with highest and lowest life expectancy has narrowed since the 2014 report, people living in the highest-scoring neighborhood, East Bennett Valley, still live 8.7 years longer than those in lowest-scoring Roseland neighborhoods.

Local community-based organizations and government agencies can use this targeted data to inform policy and funding decisions, directing services to communities most in need.

“It’s vitally important that we center the community in decisions that follow this report,” said Karin Demarest, vice president for community impact at Community Foundation Sonoma County, a partner in producing the report. “The Portrait Update is just the beginning of this conversation. Building inclusive broad community input is where true change will emerge.”

The Portrait of Sonoma County 2021 Update report was produced by Measure of America, an initiative of the Social Science Research Council, in partnership with Community Foundation Sonoma County, the Peter E. Haas Jr. Family Fund, Sonoma County Office of Equity, Upstream Investments, and Sonoma County Departments of Human and Health Services. Additional funding support was provided by Career Technical Education Foundation, First 5 Sonoma County, Healthcare Foundation Northern Sonoma County, John Jordan Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, Petaluma Health Care District, Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation, Sonoma County Office of Education, Providence St. Joseph Health, Sutter Health, and United Way of the Wine Country.

Sonoma Sun | Sonoma, CA