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Oakland Tribune (California), July 31, 2008: New study paints grim picture of East Bay

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By Kamika Dunlap
Oakland Tribune
6 hours ago

OAKLAND A new study shows the East Bay is leading the Bay Area in increasingpoverty levels, low living-wage job opportunities, decline of housingaffordability and sinking high school graduation rates.

Thesewere among the findings released Thursday by the East Bay CommunityFoundation. Their 2008 East Bay Community Assessment Update is a “studyof studies,” based on a review of data from 58 other reports focused onbarriers to justice and equity, as well as solutions to improve qualityof life issues for East Bay residents.

Thestudy highlights trends in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, includingthe emerging “hourglass economy,” where new jobs are divided betweenlow-wage, low-skill jobs and high-wage jobs, with little growth ofliving-wage jobs in the middle.

Thewide disparities in achievement among schools and districts and theunmet need for quality child care for working families of all incomeslevels were key findings. In addition, the more than 4,500 adults onparole represent a need for a range of services to reintegrate theminto society, according to the report.

“It’svery stressful out here, and I like having money in my pocket, even ifit’s a dollar so I won’t be broke,” said Dwight Hasklin, 33, ofOakland. Hasklin served time for selling drugs because he said heneeded to make ends meet when his $8.25 hourly pay from driving towtrucks didn’t stretch far enough to support his family. Hasklin onlyhad to serve five of his nine month sentence because he earned his highschool equivalency degree during that time. When he was released, hefound a security job through America Works, a private employmentcompany that helps to place ex-offenders in the work force.

Hasklinis one of many East Bay residents struggling to overcome socio-economicchallenges. The study provides a bird’s-eye view of the aggregated dataand the issues impacting the area.

“Thisis a sobering wake-up call for community action,” said Nicole Taylor,president and chief executive officer of the East Bay CommunityFoundation. “There’s also tremendous resources that need to bemarshaled to deal with the negative trends.”

Todo that, Taylor said the study helped the foundation identify successin early childhood and strong economic opportunity for adults as twocritical ways to affect change. Also, creating more partnerships amongbusiness, government and philanthropic organizations can help totransform low income and underserved communities, she said.

Asimilar study was published in 2005. The updated report, however, showsthat about 600,000 residents live in households earning less than theamount required to afford basic necessities. Unemployment fell from2003 to 2006, but it rose from 4.5 percent in March 2006 to 5.5 percentin March 2008. Unemployment was 8.4 percent in Oakland, 9.2 percent inRichmond and 9 percent in Pittsburg in March 2008.

“Weneed to find a way to keep people out of the jobs keeping them inpoverty,” said Andy Nelson, director of Economic Opportunity Programsat the Urban Strategies Council. “In bad economic times and in boomtimes, poor people are not doing well.”

Nelsonsaid he agrees that education is a long-term strategy to improveoverall quality- of-life issues. However, creating jobs that areaccessible and housing that everyone can afford are equally important.The study cites the East Bay as one of the least- affordable regions inthe country for homeownership and hit the hardest by the subprimelending crisis.

“We need to put asafety floor under people’s feet,” Nelson said. “When an economic tiderises, poor people can be in a position to rise with it.”

Thestudy addresses several other issues including health, homelessness,hunger and crime and public safety. Taylor said the goal of the reportwas to provide comprehensive information about East Bay residents andto address the “root causes” of issues in their lives.

Contact Kamika Dunlap at 510-208-6448 or kdunlap@bayareanewsgroup.com .

Key findings Graduation rates in the East Bay rose steadily from themid-1990s to 2002, but then began to decline in many districts.Graduation rates in many districts fell sharply in 2006 when theCalifornia High School Exit Exam became mandatory for graduation. In2006, more than 588,000 East Bay residents (24 percent) earned lessthan 200 percent of the federal poverty level, an income consideredinadequate to meet the cost of basic needs. The East Bay continues tobe one of the least-affordable regions in the country forhomeownership. A majority of East Bay residents pay more than 30percent of their income for housing. The 110-page study is available atebcf.org/docs/2008/Comm_Needs_Full.pdf

Source: 2008 East Bay Community Assessment Update

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