Racial gaps in California get a county-by-county look in a new online tool.
While California is often regarded as one large, liberal utopia, the Golden State does not always shine when it comes to racial equity, according to Advancement Project California, a civil rights group. The group has created Race Counts, an interactive web tool that analyzes the unequal burdens shouldered throughout the state. This project looks at seven key quality-of-life measures—economic opportunity, healthcare access, education, housing, democracy, crime and justice, and healthy built environments—and shows how minority communities fare on each.
Race Counts maps out these variables in each of California’s 58 counties. Click into Monterey County, for example, and you will learn that African American youth who live there are three times more likely to face truancy arrests than their white counterparts. In Fresno County, white residents are employed in managerial positions at double the rate of black and Asian residents and triple the rate of Latinos and Native Americans. Black residents are 15 times more likely to be incarcerated than white residents in Santa Clara County, the heart of Silicon Valley.
John Kim, the executive director of Advancement Project California, came up with the idea to map inequality by race after seeing the results of the organization’s previous mapping project, healthycity.org, which focused on neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Using the map, Kim could see how certain communities were disparately affected by issues like gun violence.
“Every neglected neighborhood [had] high concentrations of people of color, but we weren’t talking about race [before],” he said. “We were talking about Zip codes and socioeconomic status, but the most common denominator was race. Over time, we decided that not having race on the table for the conversation meant we were missing way too many important dynamics and key factors for change.”
So the group collected data from various sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau and Department of Education, the Los Angeles Police Department, and the University of California, Los Angeles, that show how ethnic groups were impacted differently by housing policies or policing.
Unlike most sites that collect and display race-based data, Race Counts splits up Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders wherever possible, and the latter usually fall behind the former in terms of socioeconomic indicators. “I think what’s really important is to break myths wherever we can with data,” Kim said about this choice. “And one of the really unfortunate myths around the AAPI community is the idea of the model minority: If you’re Asian or Pacific Islander, everything is fine for you. And that’s absolutely not the case.”
Pacific Islanders are people whom the census defines as having origins “in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.” According to 2013 census data, the community has a poverty rate of roughly 20 percent, which is nearly 7 percent higher than the poverty rate of Asian Americans.
Even within the Asian American demographic, there are stark differences. Nationally, fewer than 20 percent of Hmong or Cambodian Americans have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to more than half of Chinese Americans and nearly 75 percent of Indian Americans. “It depends on how you immigrated, [whether you were] a refugee, what your class or wellbeing was in your home country,” Kim said. “There are huge differences within that community, and we need to show that. We can’t keep playing off of 1970s stereotypes.”
The map shows how systemic injustices take a long time to heal. As Richard Rothstein described in the Los Angeles Times, after World War II, the federal government destroyed diverse neighborhoods in Southern California only to build segregated housing, and used tactics like redlining to block African Americans from buying homes with federal loans. Similar practices were put in place in the rest of the state—and the nation.
This set the state up for the deep disparities evident today. Across California, Asian and white homeowners have almost $25,000 more of their income left after paying for housing than African Americans, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Latinos. In San Mateo County, only 37 percent of the black, Latino, Native American, and Pacific Islander populations own the homes they live in, compared to the white population’s 67 percent home ownership rate. “Housing is one of those spaces where racial segregation is kept alive, and it’s an echo from the past but we still keep renewing it,” said Kim.
The project does not always paint a full picture—Santa Clara County is deemed “low disparity” although homes are notoriously unaffordable in the region. Kim acknowledges this, noting that no data project can tell the whole story of an area. “Data is only half the picture,” he said. “We’re clear that what we have is a powerful tool, but we have to get this on the ground. At the county level, a lot of sub-county issues get masked.” Los Angeles County, for example, encompasses both Beverly Hills as well as poorer South L.A. In the project’s next iteration, Advancement Project California hopes to narrow down to the city level.
Kim hopes that policymakers and advocates alike use the maps and data to look at race and disparity in tandem. “We feel that California has gotten too comfortable not talking about race,” he said. “We’re hoping that this can create new spaces that can include people who have otherwise been left out of those conversations.”