What Inequality Looks Like in San Diego

What Inequality Looks Like in San Diego

Photo by Sam Hodgson

Homeless San Diegans pick out shoes and clothes at a Project Homeless Connect event in January.

Some important people are starting to pay more attention to the gulf between those with means, and those without.

President Obama sounded an alarm over “increased inequality and decreasing mobility” in a landmark speech last week. Pope Francis made headlines for condemning policies he said handicap the poor. Here in San Diego, UC Chancellor Pradeep Khosla has been outspoken about income inequality, and how it might eventually shut more and more people out of a solid education.

He told us last month:

“Right now I’m concerned that we’re at a point right now where your income is deciding more than it should: whether you can go to school or not. And if we keep on going down that path, I think we’ll become a country where only the rich get educated and the poor don’t, and it won’t be the great democracy that it is, and will become in my mind, a Third World country.”

There are lots of ways income inequality plays out in San Diego. Here are a few:

Education

Khosla’s warnings over income inequality all hinge on access to education.  He said UC San Diego is committed to bolstering access, with programs like the Chancellor’s Associates Scholarship program, “where we pick high schools and, students from these high schools that are committed to UC San Diego go there for free.”

But disparities within San Diego Unified mean only certain students can take advantage of offers like those.

Not all students who graduate from high school are prepared to enter a school like UC San Diego – and the breakdown of those who are is troubling.

Here’s what Mario Koran reported about the so-called achievement gap:

But if we take a closer look, and consider the number of students who graduate prepared to enter the University of California system, we start to see some separation.

While students across the county and state scored poorly on this measure, only 1 in 5 Latino and American Indian males, respectively, met University of California admission standards when they graduated from San Diego Unified in 2011. The district average was about twice as good.

San Diego Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten plans to examine disparities like this one beginning this month. She said in her big State of the School District address in October that she’ll hold “‘data dialogues’ … for top administrators to discuss attendance rates, suspension rates and the academic performance of student ‘subgroups’ that are lagging behind.”

Housing

A recent study found that far more San Diego County families are functionally poor than the official numbers suggest. Part of that comes from the fact that it costs much more to live here than it does in other parts of the country. One of the biggest culprits is housing.

With housing prices so high, it makes sense, then, that rental rates are surging – San Diego now ranks third in rentership rates among major U.S. cities.

But as rentership booms, so do rental prices. The New York Times reported on the growing crisis:

The collapse of the housing boom helping stoke a severe shortage of affordable rental apartments. Demand for rental units has surged, with credit standards tight and many families unable to scrape together enough for a down payment for buying a home. At the same time, supply has declined, with homebuilders and landlords often targeting the upper end of the market.

All those factors have contributed to an increasingly loud debate over how best to boost the availability of affordable housing in San Diego.

At the center of that storm has been the affordable housing fee, a charge on new commercial buildings that the city uses to help pay for subsidized housing units. The City Council voted last month to substantially raise the fee.

After crunching the numbers, though, we’ve learned that the increase still represents a drop in the bucket:

Now, with the fee increase, the Housing Commission will be able to build 80-100 more units every year.

It’s not making much of a dent, or a dimple even, but it certainly will affect payers. …

The Housing Commission has effectively admitted that even a five-fold increase of a controversial fee on development won’t have even marginal impacts on the housing crisis.

It’s an admission that the market will have to build the tens of thousands of homes the Housing Commission staff said we need.

Food

One of the starkest examples of income disparities is the fact that some San Diegans don’t have enough to eat, especially when it comes to nutritious food.

Bianca Bruno reported:

In San Diego, a quarter of City Heights residents are affected by food insecurity, and countywide close to 160,000 children are lacking regular access to nutritious food. City Heights’ rates are similar to those in Santa Ana, an Orange County community that is also largely low-income and Latino.

Certain government programs that help needy residents purchase healthy food have been successful – but money for some of those programs is running out:

A new study says San Diego-area low-income residents got a big boost from a government program designed to encourage healthy eating and support farmers markets in poor neighborhoods like City Heights.

Thousands of local residents who get government assistance enrolled in the program and received vouchers to buy nutritious foods like produce, meat, bread and eggs at farmers markets. The participants spent about $330,000 from 2010-2011, or about $93 per person. …

For now, however, the federal grants for the program have run out.

More and more, these programs are on the chopping block. SNAP benefits, for example, have become a political target in the battle over the farm bill. Clare Leschin-Hoar shone a spotlight earlier this year on four San Diego recipients of SNAP benefits, also known as food stamps, and their struggles to put together a meal with healthy produce and protein:

Jessica takes in $230 a month in food stamps. She spends the money on items like eggs, cheese, milk and pasta. She shops the discount bins at local markets and stores, and carefully watches for sales. There are times where she’s had to choose between food for her family and gas to get to her job. When the food sometimes runs out, she seeks out churches and food pantries to make it through the month.

We plan to cover the various factors that contribute to what it costs to live in San Diego more in 2014. Got ideas about other ways to measure inequality here? Send them our way.

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Sara Libby

Sara Libby

Sara Libby is VOSD’s managing editor. She oversees VOSD’s newsroom and its content. You can reach her at sara.libby@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0526.

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