More Local Children, Working Families Living In Poverty
How many local families have been pushed into poverty as a result of the recession? We discuss the latest U.S. Census Bureau statistics on poverty in San Diego, and the measures that can be taken locally to reduce the rate of poverty.
Teresa Connors, Regional News Editor for the North County Times.
Alisa Joyce Barba, independent editor with NPR member stations.
David Rolland, editor of San Diego CityBeat.
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.
GLORIA PENNER (Host): I’m Gloria Penner. I’m joined by the editors at the roundtable These Days in San Diego. Today we’ll have opinions about poverty intensifying in San Diego according to a recent report, the dead heat in the race for governor, at least it was, and a group of local business leaders tells the city to commit to additional financial reforms if it wants their support for Proposition D. The editors with me today are Teresa Connors, regional news editor for the North County Times. It’s really good to have you here, Teresa.
TERESA CONNORS (Regional News Editor, North County Times): Thank you, Gloria.
PENNER: And Alisa Joyce Barba, independent editor with NPR member stations. Welcome back, Alisa.
ALISA JOYCE BARBA (Independent Editor, NPR Member Stations): Hi, Gloria.
PENNER: You’re wearing a different hat today. I like the hat.
BARBA: Thank you.
PENNER: And David Rolland, editor of San Diego CityBeat. I’m glad you could make it, David.
DAVID ROLLAND (Editor, San Diego CityBeat): I’m glad to be here. Thanks.
PENNER: And our number is 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. Well, according to a report released this week 100,000 more San Diegans fell into economic hardship between 2007 to 2009. The analysis of the 2009 Census data was done by a local think tank, the Center on Policy Initiatives. So, Teresa, let’s start with that 100,000 figure. That’s a huge number. So of our 3 million total regional population, how many are actually living in poverty?
CONNORS: Well, according to the Center for Policy – the Center for Policy Institute (sic), the local think tank, there are, countywide, 12.6% of the county living in the poverty level. That is over 300,000 people who don’t have enough money to put food on the table. It…
PENNER: Now, correct me, I’m trying to think what 300,000 – would that be equivalent, let’s say, to the City of Chula Vista? About? Yeah, just about, I guess.
CONNORS: We’re talking about three City of Oceansides.
PENNER: There we go.
ROLLAND: And we’re talking about, I think, one out of every eight people.
CONNORS: That’s correct.
PENNER: Living in poverty. Well, when the report talks about falling from the middle class into poverty, what does it actually mean in terms of lifestyle, Alisa.
BARBA: Well, I think what we’re talking about really is we’re talking about people who are having trouble making their mortgage payments, people who are having trouble paying rent. We have some of the highest rents in the country in San Diego. And we talk – You know, they – People who are really having difficulty, I think, putting food on the table, as Teresa said, I mean, one of the other statistics that is widely quoted in a lot of this stuff is the number of people both going on food stamps. The rate of people going on food stamps is up some extraordinary amount, like 43% in the last couple of years, and the number of people who are visiting food banks and places where they help people with food on the table is way, way up as well.
PENNER: So one in eight people. Let me ask our listeners about that. Now you’re listening to the radio right now or you’re listening on your computer a little later maybe, as you look around you, as you live your lives, as you walk around the streets, drive around San Diego, how aware are you of the fact that one in eight of those people around you are actually living in poverty? And do you happen to be one of them? Our number is 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. Teresa Connors.
CONNORS: Yes, I mean, I think it’s really important to define what we mean by living in poverty.
CONNORS: And we should talk about how the federal government defines that. The federal government says you are living in poverty as an individual if you are making $12,000 or less a year. If you are a family of four, you are living in poverty if you are making $27,000 a year. It’s inconceivable to think that someone even making double that amount can live in a region where the median income is $60,000.
PENNER: Okay, so, David.
ROLLAND: I actually thought the numbers were even lower than that. I thought it was about $21,000 for a – or a little more than $21,000 for a family of four but…
CONNORS: That’s for a couple.
ROLLAND: Okay. All right. I’d have to go back and look at those numbers. But the point is, we’re talking about one in every eight people at the federal poverty level but when you’re talking about real actual cost of living in any kind of reasonable measure, we’re talking a lot – about a lot more people than that cannot make ends meet.
PENNER: What is the minimum wage now? Is it $8.50 an hour? Somewhere around there? $7.50?
PENNER: Anybody know?
ROLLAND: …California or…?
PENNER: Yeah. Well, yeah. So people here, let’s say, would be earning minimum wage.
BARBA: I think…
ROLLAND: I think it’s $8.00 in California?
BARBA: Eight, eight and a half, it’s something like that.
PENNER: Yeah, okay. So if you work 2000 hours and you made $8.00 an hour, that’s $16,000 and if you’re a – if you have a kid or a spouse or a partner, you certainly are in the poverty level.
PENNER: Right, Alisa.
BARBA: You know, these federal figures, the thing that’s kind of crazy about it is that, you know, it can’t serve the whole nation. When they have the same figure as holds true for somebody who lives in Indiana or lives in a place where housing costs are very low, I mean, our gasoline prices are higher. Just the basic fundamental parts of life that we all have to pay for are significantly higher here. They call it the sun tax. I don’t know what they call it but it’s expensive.
PENNER: Well, this is true. I mean, throughout the nation, if you’re paying 30% of your income, one-third of your income goes to housing, that’s considered too much.
PENNER: But in San Diego, I think that’s the norm.
CONNORS: That’s standard. It is.
PENNER: It is the standard. Okay. Well, you heard my question to the listeners and they are responding. Let’s hear from Matt in Bonita. Matt, you’re on with the editors.
MATT (Caller, Bonita): Well, good after – good morning, rather, and, again, thank you for sharing with me and allowing me to do the same. My concerns are that we have lived in a time, certainly, post-Prop 13 where the mantra has been pretty much no taxes and poor people just assume that the no taxes means the same for them as it does for corporations. In the process, large corporations, from oil companies to everyone else, have been rife in not really being responsible to the public. We’re closing libraries—I’ll be speaking about that soon in Chula Vista. And I’m concerned about where we, as a body politic, stop the noise and start making everyone, especially the business community, actually responsible for some of what clearly with Wall Street and what’s going on there, that they’re responsible for.
PENNER: Clarify for me what you mean by making them responsible.
MATT: I find it almost beyond reprehensible in recognizing that credit default swaps and all those kinds of maneuvers and mechanisms that have been used – originally we heard that poor people having loans were responsible for the mess that we’re in and, in point of fact, it had to do with essentially the business community and our full acceptance, our full embrace of business, no matter what, being part of the community. But in point of fact, as ADM, Archer Daniels Midland, the Public Radio piece on them showed, well, in most large businesses today, the public is considered an enemy. And I think we’re watching that go on as they push people like anyone who will sing the business mantra but, in point of fact, not be responsible to the public at times like this…
MATT: …and I’m concerned about that.
PENNER: Thank you, Matt. Alisa Joyce Barba.
BARBA: Yeah, you know, I think part of what you’re addressing is the fact that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer and that the gap between the two is ever-widening. And we have a taxation system that even if we – if the Obama administration doesn’t keep the, you know, takes away the tax breaks for the wealthy, we still have a taxation system that has an unfair burden on the poor people in this country and doesn’t go after the rich in the same way.
PENNER: Okay, Alisa, so in this election year will public opinion toward parties and candidates be swayed by these numbers and the dependence on public programs and public funds to maintain the poor?
BARBA: You know, I don’t know really how it’s going to affect the political spectrum at this point. I think, you know, we all know that there’s a lot of anger out there against the corporations and the businesses. At the same time, you know, at the same time I don’t think people really put it together and recognize that, you know, it may be the welfare state that provides the safety net. You know, they’re – they’re angry on both sides.
PENNER: Well, do you think – David.
ROLLAND: Well, I was just going to add to what Alisa had said at the outset there, that the AP reported that while most income groups saw declines, the people making in the top 5%, people making over $180,000 actually made gains income-wise while the rest of us are falling. And I think that kind of goes to the caller’s point a little bit. And meanwhile – Well, and that has to affect the debate over whether we eliminate the Bush tax cuts and it’s important to note that – I read that in California people, by a fairly wide margin, favor increasing the burden on the highest earners.
PENNER: What can narrow that gap, David? I mean, there is that gap, the – Half the income in the United States went to the top earning 20% of Americans.
ROLLAND: Distribute the wealth. Redistribute the wealth.
PENNER: Uh-oh. Oh-oh. Well, all right, let’s bleep that one and let’s move on. Okay. Let’s hear now from George in San Diego. George, you’re on with the editors.
GEORGE (Caller, San Diego): Yeah, hi.
PENNER: Hi, and ignore that last comment, please, from David.
ROLLAND: Don’t ignore it, redistribute the wealth.
PENNER: Okay, go ahead, George.
GEORGE: Yeah, well, good morning. Thank you for letting me speak. I’m one of the eight that you were mentioning living below poverty level in San Diego. And reality is, is that things have gone way out of order in every aspect of businesses and everything that we do here in America. And it’s sad to see that you don’t need to take the money from the rich because they work for it probably. What needs to be done, the administration needs to come back and restructure the business system, the corporate system, and the way everybody deal with everybody in here because everybody is snitching from everybody else.
PENNER: Okay, thank you so much for that comment, George. You know, the North County Times, for which you work, Teresa, serves an area that we generally think of as more affluent than the city of San Diego or the South Bay. What do the numbers say about the North County?
CONNORS: The numbers in North County are generally better than else – generally better than elsewhere, including the city of San Diego, but there were a couple of interesting indicators I thought in the most recent report that came out. Number one, the level of poverty fell actually. The poverty level fell in the City of Escondido, and rose ever so slightly in the City of Carlsbad.
PENNER: Boy, that goes against what the common wisdom is that, you know, Carlsbad’s affluent and Escondido’s more blue collar.
CONNORS: It is, and I found one of the interesting things when I went back and I looked at the foreclosure and default numbers and in part thinking that there had to be some sort of an explanation for why Carlsbad was ticking upwards. The number of defaults and foreclosures were almost 40% in the City of Carlsbad. So anybody who thinks that the foreclosure crisis has hit the poorer communities of Escondido and Vista is misinformed. It is actually going across the class.
BARBA: I think it’s traveling. I think it started probably in the more lower income neighborhoods but now, as we’ve been talking about, we’ve talked – more people losing their job leads to more foreclosures, and it’s moving into those communities, I think.
PENNER: Okay, well, George, thanks for your call. Let’s hear from Emily in Mira Mesa. Emily, you’re on with the editors.
EMILY (Caller, Mira Mesa): Hi, you know, you’re right. The foreclosure crisis and the economic crisis has hit a lot more than just the middle class. We were in the upper middle class and have been for about 15 years. I’ve been a CEO for five years, a Pricewaterhouse Cooper CPA, and in 2008, we made $150,000 in our family of four. In 2009, we made $20,000.
EMILY: Yeah, we’ve been trying to get a home loan modification from Wells Fargo for over a year and they have pretended to negotiate it in good faith with us and they went ahead and tried to publicly auction our home behind our backs while we were still negotiating with them. So I think what’s happening is a lot of our corporations have lost their moral compass and instead of doing what’s really best for their customers, which is really what will provide longevity for them as a business, they are in a state of panic and have really been making decisions that are not only impacting families like mine but impacting my entire neighborhood. And I’m not the only one, there are a lot of CEOs I know right now that are out of work and are facing the same situation.
PENNER: So are you dipping into savings, is that how you’re doing it?
EMILY: Yeah, so we, for 2009, we lived off of liquidating our assets and liquidating our investments, our 401(k) plans, and now they’re out, you know. So we’re not really sure what to do but you’re going to – when you start seeing people that are as educated as I am homeless then you’re, you know, we’re really facing a serious crisis.
PENNER: Well, I thank you, Emily, and I’m really, really sorry to hear that story. And, as you say, it’s obviously not an isolated instance. And so we’ll talk more about that when we come back. We’re going to take a short break. When we come back, we’ll talk a little bit more about what Emily said. You know, that kind of shakes you up a little bit. This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner.
PENNER: This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner. And I’m at the roundtable today with Teresa Connors from the North County Times and David Rolland from San Diego CityBeat and from NPR member stations, an independent editor, Alisa Joyce Barba. We’re talking about poverty in San Diego and we’ve been getting some stories now as we’ve heard that the poverty has increased substantially in San Diego according to the 2009 Census. And, you know, the figures are kind of shocking but then when you hear the personal stories, they’re – they reinforce the shock that you get from the figures. So one in eight persons in the city of – in the region of San Diego living in poverty, one in eight. We just heard from Emily. Emily’s family of four earned $150,000 last year or two years ago. Last year, $20,000 and they’re not even making ends meet. So let’s get some comments from the editors on what Emily had to say. And we’ll start with Teresa.
CONNORS: Yeah, Emily’s story really, I think, captures what happened and what the numbers indicated for the poverty level in 2009 and just how tough it’s been. And, unfortunately, I don’t think that we’re going to see those conditions easing this year. I think it’s going to take more time and I think we’re going to see more people like Emily struggling to stay – have a roof over their heads and put food on the table.
PENNER: Okay, well, I thank you. Just one question for you, Alisa. The – When we have this kind of a situation one would think that dependence on public assistance grows.
BARBA: It does. It does grow, and it has grown and we’ve seen, again, you know, there’s this whole controversy in San Diego about eligibility for food stamps and accessibility but we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of people who are eligible and who are using food stamps at least in Riverside County, not as huge in San Diego, but there definitely has been many more people going in for assistance at these food banks, people that have never been anywhere near there before. I mean, I don’t – you’ve probably worked in – or helped out in some of these. It’s really quite extraordinary where you see these families, you see middle class people, you see people just like you and I coming through, and they’re coming – the numbers are way up in those food banks.
PENNER: So when we sort of extend out that thought, we think about the necessity of government assistance because, yes, food banks very often are supported in part…
PENNER: …by private philanthropies but food stamps, for example, or Medicaid, which I understand has expanded enormously, this is – this comes from government dollars and, David, government dollars are shrinking that are available for this kind of thing.
ROLLAND: Yeah, we’re going to talk about – a little bit about the state government in the next segment when we talk about the governor’s race, and the state government is $20 billion short. They’ve got to come up with cuts or revenue increases to close that deficit and typically when this kind of thing happens the easiest place to cut is in social services and they have been cut over the last couple of years when people need them the most. So it really is kind of a sickening irony.
PENNER: Okay, well, let’s hear from our listeners again. Their stories are certainly to the point. And William from Oceanside is with us. William, you’re on with the editors.
WILLIAM (Caller, Oceanside): Hi. Thank you very much. I wanted to make a comment. I’m a cable guy so I’m entering people’s homes every day and I get to see a good census on, you know, North County. And I have to say a lot of the people that are in poverty, we really don’t get the ability to see due to the fact that they don’t have enough money to really go out. They’re also living in some pretty bad conditions sometimes, you know, not only with having no furniture and no blankets sometimes but, you know, as far as insects and mold goes. So, you know, I just wanted to touch base, you know, on the fact that we don’t really get to see our poverty, you know, people out there. And I also wanted to touch on Emily’s comment with the corporations losing moral compass. Unfortunately, I’m working for a corporation and in the last three years I’ve had five different direct managers. Now they’re judged based upon statistics and efficiency, so what they do is they come into the house and if the house is dirty, they’re not going to clean it, you know. What they need to do is they need to prove their numbers, so what you do is you lose accountability when you have people cycling through and I just wanted to comment that.
PENNER: Thank you so much for your comment, William. We appreciate it. And before we comment on that, let’s hear from one more caller and may I please urge those of you who are trying to get through to us and won’t be able to on the phone to go to our website at KPBS.org/editorsroundtable and register your comment because the conversation continues on our website and it’s a very vigorous conversation on that site. Let’s hear now from Alexander in Old Town. Alexander, you’re on with the editors.
ALEXANDER (Caller, Old Town): Hi, Gloria. Thanks for taking my call.
ALEXANDER: Earlier, David made a comment about socialism and, you know, redistribution and, you know, everyone kind of laughed it off but the thing is to remember that just because an idea’s been heard a thousand times before doesn’t make it any less right. In fact, it, you know, often is an indication that it’s a good idea. I mean, the reality is it’s a structural problem in capitalism and when you look at the fact that we’re living in an accumulation system where people that, you know, that business owners are extracting resources from the workers, the money flows uphill. It’s just the way it is. And the last caller really hit the nail on the head when he talked about the moral compass and the fact that, you know, the people in charge of business, they are not beholden to any kind of standard besides the numbers, besides the money. And, you know, I mean, when you look at that – exactly what we’re talking about today, that the income gap has – is at the level now in America that it was in – beyond – during the October Revolution in Russia in 1915. I mean, you know, you can’t laugh this off. It really is a structural problem and until we address that, I just don’t think we’re going to be able to get anywhere.
PENNER: Okay, so let’s – I – Let me talk about socialism. I really wasn’t laughing it off. What I was doing was trying not to get the conversation headed in a direction that would take it away from the issue at hand, which is poverty, and into some kind of political discussion because actually we’re going to save that for the next segment. So I’m not throwing away the idea of socialism, just saying not now, please. Not now, David.
ROLLAND: And let me clarify that I didn’t say the word socialism…
BARBA: That was Alisa.
ROLLAND: …I said redistribution of wealth. That was Alisa who said socialism.
ROLLAND: And I was dead serious about redistribution of wealth.
PENNER: There we are. We’re all distancing ourselves from that.
ROLLAND: I’m not distancing myself from it.
ROLLAND: I’m embracing it.
PENNER: Okay, you heard that, David’s embracing it. So let’s gather ourselves up for our final comments on this. First of all, I’m going to go to you, David. The center that created this report is the Center for Policy Initiatives and it is funded by organized labor. So what I’m asking you is, is there a relationship with the information that came up from CPI and what organized labor wants, which is a political push for a living wage?
ROLLAND: Well, sure. I mean, labor funds a group like CPI because it feels strongly about getting information about poverty out to the public. You know, maybe that’s an awfully naïve way to look at it but I think it’s true.
PENNER: Okay. And any last thoughts from you, Frances (sic), you know, maybe responding to Alexander or to – I’m sorry, I called you, Teresa. I called you Frances. I meant Teresa. Responding to Alexander or to William?
CONNORS: To Alexander, William and Emily, I think it would be a very educational lesson for people in power to have to have a five minute encounter every day with somebody that lives in the homes that William talks about where they don’t have blankets and they don’t have furniture. Visit with Emily’s family as they learn that their home has been sold out from under them by a big bank in New York. The human face, it’s real easy to go about our business every day and not see that human face.
PENNER: Okay, thank you. And I appreciate that, Teresa. Alisa Joyce Barba.
BARBA: And I was just going to say that this is – the Obama administration is on this big last push before the November election and they’re trying to make the case that the economy has begun a turnaround, that the subsidies have worked and that things are on the uptick and, I mean, everywhere the president goes he’s hearing stories like Emily’s and he is not hearing any good news. And I think the point is, is that while very, very few people may see a turnaround, most people are not and that’s the tough, tough news.
PENNER: Okay. Well, thank you all, and thanks to our callers and, again, KPBS.org/editorsroundtable is our website to get the rest of your comments. Let’s move on.