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Study paints grim picture of East Bay

Submitted by News Desk on Thu, 07/31/2008 - 10:00pm

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

These were among the findings released Thursday by the East Bay Community Foundation. Their 2008 East Bay Community Assessment Update is a "study of studies," based on a review of data from 58 other reports focused on barriers to justice and equity, as well as solutions to improve quality of life issues for East Bay residents.

The study highlights trends in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, including the emerging "hourglass economy," where new jobs are divided between low-wage, low-skill jobs and high-wage jobs, with little growth of living-wage jobs in the middle.

The wide disparities in achievement among schools and districts and the unmet need for quality child care for working families of all incomes levels were key findings. In addition, the more than 4,500 adults on parole represent a need for a range of services to reintegrate them into society, according to the report.

"It's very stressful out here, and I like having money in my pocket, even if it's a dollar so I won't be broke,'' said Dwight Hasklin, 33, of Oakland. Hasklin served time for selling drugs because he said he needed to make ends meet when his $8.25 hourly pay from driving tow trucks didn't stretch far enough to support his family. Hasklin only had to serve five of his nine month sentence because he earned his high school equivalency degree during that time. When he was released, he found a security job through America Works, a private employment company that helps to place ex-offenders in the work force.

Hasklin is one of many East Bay residents struggling to overcome socio-economic challenges. The study provides a bird's-eye view of the aggregated data and the issues impacting the area.

"This is a sobering wake-up call for community action," said Nicole Taylor, president and chief executive officer of the East Bay Community Foundation. "There's also tremendous resources that need to be marshaled to deal with the negative trends."

To do that, Taylor said the study helped the foundation identify success in early childhood and strong economic opportunity for adults as two critical ways to affect change. Also, creating more partnerships among business, government and philanthropic organizations can help to transform low income and underserved communities, she said.

A similar study was published in 2005. The updated report, however, shows that about 600,000 residents live in households earning less than the amount required to afford basic necessities. Unemployment fell from 2003 to 2006, but it rose from 4.5 percent in March 2006 to 5.5 percent in March 2008. Unemployment was 8.4 percent in Oakland, 9.2 percent in Richmond and 9 percent in Pittsburg in March 2008.

"We need to find a way to keep people out of the jobs keeping them in poverty," said Andy Nelson, director of Economic Opportunity Programs at the Urban Strategies Council. "In bad economic times and in boom times, poor people are not doing well."

Nelson said he agrees that education is a long-term strategy to improve overall quality- of-life issues. However, creating jobs that are accessible and housing that everyone can afford are equally important. The study cites the East Bay as one of the least- affordable regions in the country for homeownership and hit the hardest by the subprime lending crisis.

"We need to put a safety floor under people's feet," Nelson said. "When an economic tide rises, poor people can be in a position to rise with it."

The study addresses several other issues including health, homelessness, hunger and crime and public safety. Taylor said the goal of the report was to provide comprehensive information about East Bay residents and to address the "root causes" of issues in their lives.

Contact Kamika Dunlap at 510-208-6448 or
# Key findings Graduation rates in the East Bay rose steadily from the mid-1990s to 2002, but then began to decline in many districts. Graduation rates in many districts fell sharply in 2006 when the California High School Exit Exam became mandatory for graduation.
# In 2006, more than 588,000 East Bay residents (24 percent) earned less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, an income considered inadequate to meet the cost of basic needs.
# The East Bay continues to be one of the least-affordable regions in the country for homeownership. A majority of East Bay residents pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing.
# The 110-page study is available at
Source: 2008 East Bay Community Assessment Update