Thursday, October 6, 2011

2011-10-06 "Report: Napa cost of living up 19 percent since 2008" by Michael Waterson from "Napa Valley Register" newspaper
The cost of living in Napa County soared 19 percent since 2008, according to newly released data from Insight Center for Community Economic Development, a national nonprofit organization and United Way partner. The increase for the overall Bay Area was 18 percent according to the report.
In order to be self-sufficient a family of four in Napa needed an annual income of $57,728 in 2008. The same family needs $68,558 in 2011 the report said.
The report said the income figures were for basic needs only such as rent, food, health care, child care, transportation, and taxes.
Meanwhile the average annual income in the county remained flat at about $45,000, the report claimed, and the unemployment rate increased from about 5 percent in 2008 to just under 9 percent last July.
Sherry Tennyson, director of the American Canyon Family Resource Center said the high number didn’t surprise her.
“I’ve seen it as a (Napa County) resident,” Tennyson said.
Meanwhile families are increasingly looking for help she said.
The county’s family centers in American Canyon, St. Helena and Calistoga provide assistance for families looking for employment, financial help, affordable lodging and more.
“Demand for our services is up easily 30-40 percent. More folks are coming through with major employment needs,” said Tennyson. “A few years ago a lot of them were doing great on the job, making $20-$25 an hour. Now what’s out there is $15 or $12 an hour with no benefits.”
As for the $11,000 jump needed in annual income for a family to be deemed self-sufficient, Tennyson said that the $68,000 figure was out of reach for most.
“We see many families working two or three jobs. Even then, they’re not anywhere close to that figure,” Tennyson said.
Shirley King of Napa Valley Food Bank said the cost of living increase forced many of her former clients to move last year.
“A lot of people consistently accessing us have moved away, a huge population of people,” said King.
Meanwhile, King said, people who haven’t needed food bank services for some time have come back.
“We’ve been seeing people who haven’t been in in forever: 2001-2002 (for example),” King said.
Maria Stokes, United Way Bay Area spokesperson, said Napa County residents’ reliance on food stamps has jumped 193 percent, from about $350,000 worth of stamps issued in May 2008 to more than $1 million in May 2011. At the same time, Stokes said, the number of families and individuals using California Alternative Rates for Energy, the PG&E assistance program, has increased 41 percent from 9,123 three years ago to 12,829 today.
“As costs go way up people have to close the gap,” said Stokes.
Sara Cakebread, director of the St. Helena Family Center had not yet seen the study.
“I guess it is surprising,” Cakebread said of the increase. “It seems like a very big jump in three years.”
Cakebread said the center was very busy.
We’re constantly having people in all the time,” she said.
The ICCED report’s figures are based on the California Self Sufficiency Standard, a measurement developed in the 1990s that defines the amount of income necessary to meet basic needs without public subsidies or private informal assistance, such as free baby-sitting by a relative or shared housing.
The standard has been increasingly used instead of the Federal Poverty level, which many now consider unreliable since it doesn’t take into account different living costs due to geographic location or different types of families’ different needs.
“Federal guidelines really don’t paint a realistic picture at all,” said Stokes.
Tennyson said the California Self Sufficiency Standard is widely used in agencies such as hers.
“We use the (California) Self Sufficiency Standard a lot as a goal families move towards. As it grows further and further away from folks, we don’t have support that can make up for that,” Tennyson said.

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