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New Report Finds Ten Percent Of San Diegans Live In Poverty

January 20, 2014 1:13 p.m.


Dr. Cynthia Burke, director of SANDAG's applied research division.

Peter Callstrom, president and CEO of the San Diego Workforce Partnership

Kathy Lembo, executive director of South Bay Community Services

Related Story: New Report Finds 10 Percent Of San Diegans Live In Poverty


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Our top story today, as the nation honors Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today, it's a good time to assess one of the social issues he championed. Dr. King believed it was time for the nation to eradicate poverty but fifty years since the federal war on poverty, it is still a serious problem across the nation. A recent report by the San Diego Association of Governments uses census data to give a break down on poverty levels throughout the county. The report finds that more than one in ten San Diegans live below the federal poverty level. Even though the overwhelming majority of those people are employed. Joining me to discuss poverty is Dr. Cynthia Burke, Peter Callstrom and Kathy Lembo. Cindy, this is a both a study of poverty in San Diego, what span of years is covered?

CYNTHIA BURKE: The data covers from 2007 to 2011 we collapsed that over the years to go down to the geographical level. That we do with the cities. Since we came out with the data we were able to look at some 2008 to 2012 data, but when you compare the numbers to see if there's any changes it is important to remember that for those years are the same years were talking about.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We talk about 13% of people, and 9% of families in San Diego living at the federally federal top poverty level, but what levels were talking about?

CYNTHIA BURKE: Is each function of how many people are in the family and our bulletin which we you will be able to put online, we do have the guidelines. It is a function of comedy people are in the household and how many children there are, so it is impossible to say one number, but those numbers have written baseline numbers have seen stayed the same for a very long time. We have different measures in a bulletin about 100% of poverty and about hundred 52% interest in different measures. The measures to go up. Tonight than the fifteenth are the most conservative effort have every half.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Development federal poverty level is taught thousand dollars per year per individual, for example family of four about $24,000. As you say the report there is also hundred 50% of the hetero federal poverty threshold. 200%, why does it go into the back of my due to those both locations?

CYNTHIA BURKE: At the most simple level it is taking into consideration the cost of living in a certain community and how that does vary. Obviously does mourns pensive to live in San Diego than it is in the Midwest, so it takes that into account and that is why we have different measures and different individuals the contact us interested in writing grants and trying to understand and track poverty levels and to try to respond to different measures. These are standard definitions.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So somewhere like San Diego where the cost of living is quite high, some living at 200% of the federal poverty level are still considered poor?

CYNTHIA BURKE: Yes according to the definition. There is interesting when you talk about what is poor, because with the no surprise that to look at this data for the first time was the fact that 71% of those with the most conservative measure of poverty are working and talking about what is that hourly wage looking like and also we know from Stetson statistics around the country, people may be in poverty are younger and we know about other particulars, but someone can go out of poverty and go back in, it's not always consistent.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And so in the study, how does the study breakdown when it comes to people living in poverty? Which areas have the highest number of people in poverty, and which areas have the lowest?

CYNTHIA BURKE: We did see considerable variability in percentages. Delmar and how how way had the lowest percentage. Some jurisdictions had the highest percentage including El Cajon and Imperial Beach and National City. The City of San Diego itself was 15% and that does include different neighborhoods. It is important to think about how big some of these jurisdictions are an obviously within one city there may be different pockets.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: As we just heard, National City is a community with one of the highest levels of poverty in our county. As a community service worker, tell us what you see is a letter level of need in the community.

KATHY LEMBO: Cindy is really right, it's a lot of the families we see coming to us for food assistance and coming to us for housing assistance are actually working people working in jobs that just don't pay enough or there is not enough hours for the job, or the hours folks fluctuate. The other thing that is important to realize, if you come in and out of poverty, and it also can be the time of year where works more abundant, so that is the kind of things that we are seeing in the community in need, also we have people coming to us who really want to move up in their employment, there is not a lot of things that can happen without some kind of vocational training and other opportunities in the community.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The kind of services to offer people who are struggling and could fit into one of these federal guidelines for poverty levels?

KATHY LEMBO: Edition twenty mentioned such as a food subsidies and housing assistance, we have also developed affordable housing to help people to not only look for of what will housing that we have, but that of your organization. We're also working very closely on whole collective impact with businesses and schools, looking at not only how can we help people who are currently in poverty, but how can we help those children? And provide that her access to education from prekindergarten all the way through college and access to vocational training. Helping the current residence in the current parents improve their job situations and that can mean something like getting a job who has benefits and it may be the same salary or getting a job that pays more for our, you can imagine what it is for a family even if you have both parents making minimum wage trying to live on minimum wage in San Diego whether your National City or El Cajon is impossible.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Kathy, you must hear stories from people coming to the South Bay community. Services for help, what challenges do families that come to you face in trying to get out of poverty?

KATHY LEMBO: I think that education is a big challenge if you look at National City and other communities that we work in an pockets of neighborhoods, more than 40% of the adults don't have a high school education or high school equivalency and that is very difficult in the job market. They don't have access to the kinds of fields that would help them fields that would help them move up. Before the housing is also an issue, National City 56% of people are renters and as you know, rent has gone up. Even during the recession, which actually increased in the rental rates because some of people come into the market.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Peter, as we heard from Kathy one solution for living lifting people out of poverty is to give the job, but as we have heard 71% of the county residents living at the federal poverty level are employed, so since you are part of the workforce partnership what is going on here?

PETER CALLSTROM: That is a great question, there are a lot of elements that feed into why it's not working well so far. The backup, the workforce partnership in the career center, there are thirteen free locations throughout the county and is free to get everything from interviews skills to resume building and so forth, and even subsidize training to get into new career pathways. It is free and available for all residents and I encourage them to check it out and find, it is an easy access point, and as Kathy mentioned education is so key and when we have that To begin with, there is a lot of work to overcome even the qualifications necessary to find the job that is going to pay a self-sufficiency wage, and when we have minimal wage where it is now and we have the debate going on whether to raise it or not, they really impacts a tremendous amount of people who are working in poverty and cannot get beyond that, being able to address that in a real fundamental way that is not going to have the added tended consequences or be detrimental to our economy is really important to be considering because somebody folks down are so far under capacity and the majority of folks who are in minimum wage jobs are the bed and what is not teenagers.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: As we know, it had a problem for several years now with people not being able to find work, things are improving and jobs are being created, but we still have people who are unemployed for quite some time, and Congress has not extended long-term unemployment benefits. I am wondering, what impacts you think the loss of those benefits will have or even perhaps have had on long-term unemployment share in San Diego?

PETER CALLSTROM: Regarding the unemployment rate coming down, that can be illusory because the latest figure does not take into account the fact that all folks that are employed, there are the youth categories of unemployment, but if you go all the way up to those or under underemployed or have left the job market and don't show up on the roles because they have gone beyond the level of support that number is easily in the teens. It really can be locally, and that number at 6.7 assist those that are on the rigs who are actively seeking employment. There is a good figure that have has gone down but there are also fewer jobs for people who are seeking unemployment now, and that is going back to who is qualified to be of the fill positions that are available and in our region we have many high skilled positions that require an advanced degree in order to work at QUALCOMM with the other great employers in the county, but there are a lot of other positions around that that are still available and when we have folks such as Kathy who alluded that have not even finished high school, you will appeal to get into the career that you need and it will be a self-sufficient wage we have to be of support people with programs like Kathy's which is great that we have been fortunate to find over time that we need to be able to do more of that to lift people out of poverty and to do that so they don't fall back as Kathy has mentioned. We have to be looked provide them with education and training and support and employers who are willing to open the doors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Cindy, as we see with the failure to extend long-term employment benefits and government employment programs are still controversial, this report shows that members of the families in San Diego live below the federal poverty level, only 4% of families are signed up for federal food assistance programs, what you think that is?

CYNTHIA BURKE: The county's been overseeing some type of oversensitive people who are in poverty and its own slow, but what is considered that the national state average of 30 to 33%, is not as drastic to know that there has been protested the statistics for the county to have outreach efforts to educate people that there are let people know that there are opportunities.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Dispensing federal assistance programs, do they work in helping people lift themselves out of poverty? And thinking of federal food assistance such as WIC and the Snap program.

CYNTHIA BURKE: But people are worried about feeding their children and they are able to provide health care access, they can then go on and look at ways to get vocational creating training to educate themselves better this so that they can take jobs, if you are worried about the next meal, it's very difficult to think about how to get a better job. It does work, the other thing is when people in this county and it has done a great job to really outreach around the food stamp program, when people come to organizations like mine even on school campuses now, they are able to access that and then access other services, and there's a whole array of family self-sufficiency services countywide that someone who comes in to any of the centers cannot only get food stamp out access but the can also get access to some of Peter's programs and that is what we need to do. But to really continue to bring it to the neighborhoods.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I wanted this on the subject will hear more about in the coming year, a push nationally and a push in the state of California, and a push now in the city of San Diego, to raise the minimum wage. San Diego interim mayor Todd Gloria what's arranged race the minimum wage up to fifty dollars hour, I think they're trying to do that in San Francisco, what do you think and do you think that would do a lot to lift people out of poverty?

PETER CALLSTROM: One of the pieces of the puzzle, but if minimum-wage had kept pace with the cost of living in inflation from forty years ago, but which now would be $10.40 per hour. Through the building was passed last year, telephone you will be at ten dollars per hour the first state in the country to do that. That will be 2016 and as it is now a lot of people as Kathy alluded to what all of their expenses are going to care for the kids, and care for health and keeping a roof over the head, have nothing left over. The more we infuse the economy into the people, the more that money comes back into our economy as people have money to spend. People are worried on the other side that this will cost more jobs because there be fewer to go around, but this is part of the adjustment that I think our economy goes through because we have to value people at all levels of income in service and even if we have to pay a little bit more for our services, that that is the cause that we pay to have a society that can support and provide an equal opportunity for people to be able to have a livable wage.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That we will end it there. I would like to think like us very much. I've been speaking with Doctor Cynthia Burke, Doctor Peter Callstrom and Kathy Lembo.