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Census: Sonoma County income stabilized in 2011

Published: Wednesday, September 19, 2012 at 9:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 19, 2012 at 8:00 p.m.

After three years of wage declines brought on by the recession, Sonoma County's median household income stabilized in 2011, according to Census Bureau estimates released today.

In 2011, the county's annual median household income -- adjusted for inflation -- leveled off at $61,020, statistically the same as it was in 2010. In contrast, from 2007 to 2009 the median income dropped from $67,509 to $65,288, and in 2010 was $60,520.

The stagnant income levels reflect the effects of a weak economic recovery, said Sonoma State University economics professor Steven Cuellar.

"The housing sector still continues to be a drag on the economy," Cuellar said, adding that construction remains stalled, housing sales have stalled and banks are still reluctant to lend money.

The estimates, which are based on the Census Bureau's annual American Community Survey, show there were about 25,000 people working in construction jobs in 2007, or 10.7 percent of the county's working population 16 and older.

That figure dropped to 17,000 by 2010 and 13,000 last year, even as the estimated number of county residents 16 and older increased from 227,836 to 232,144 from 2010 to 2011.

"The entire construction industry, which was big out here, is pretty much wiped out," Cuellar said.

The loss of construction jobs has hit the county's Latino population particularly hard, and the recovery doesn't seem to be offering any relief.

Nationally, the median income fell from $54,909 in 2007 to $50,502 last year. The state's median income similarly declined, from $65,005 in 2007 to $57,287 in 2011.

Today's estimates show that 19.1 percent of Latino families in the county live below the federal poverty level, which was $23,021 for a family of four in 2011. In 2010, it was 17.3 percent and in 2007 it was 13.9 percent.

"The (census) data shows that poverty has risen and income has stagnated for the most vulnerable groups in our community, particularly families with children, Hispanics and the elderly," said Jerry Dunn, interim director of the Sonoma County Human Services Department.

Dunn said the county has witnessed an increase in the need for social services such as food assistance, medical insurance and job searching. "We are involved in several community efforts to help these individuals," he said.

Mark Ihde, the CEO of Goodwill Industries of the Redwood Empire, said the number of Goodwill clients has stabilized after "spiking around 2009."

Goodwill provides job training and placement services for about 3,000 North Coast residents, he said. The number of clients in the organization's Welfare to Work program has also stabilized, he said.

Oddly, Ihde said his organization is "having trouble hiring people." He said there are currently 25 positions available, from entry-level jobs that start at $18,000 a year to a position that pays $60,000. Two weeks ago, there were 40 openings at Goodwill, which has a workforce of 320 people.

The census estimates released today show that the share of county households earning inflation-adjusted incomes between $15,000 and $25,000 a year grew from 7.1 percent to 11 percent. Meanwhile, households earning $75,000 to $100,000 fell from 14.7 percent to 12.4 percent.

Even households earning $200,000 or more declined from 7.6 percent to 5.7 percent.

News Researcher Janet Balicki contributed to this report.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin. espinoza@pressdemocrat.com.

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