By Michael Bisch
As the Executive Director of Yolo Food Bank, I read with interest the Vanguard’s recent commentary on “Sacramento’s surprising rank on a new list of best cities for startup companies” in the June 24th edition of the Sacramento Bee. While I have encouraged a culture of celebrating successes at Yolo Food Bank, we also find it equally important to face our shortcomings and address our failures. I would certainly expect no less from the community leadership in the Sacramento region.
According to a recent Brookings Institution “candid, data-driven” assessment commissioned by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG), the six-county Sacramento region also lays claim to the dubious honor of being ranked 16th out of the 100 largest metro areas nationally in fostering poverty and economic disparities. Brookings researchers have revealed that an astonishing 34% of the region’s families “do not earn enough to cover their basic household expenses.” The researchers rightly point out that this level of poverty in the Sacramento region is “alarming.”
The assessment further states that, “…the share of struggling families is disproportionately concentrated in communities of color and individuals with lower levels of education…a region cannot be economically prosperous if it fails to provide access to growth and opportunity for all…existing vulnerabilities and disparities will only be exacerbated unless the region takes deliberate action.”
This level of poverty and economic disparity in our state capital region has not been the result of happenstance. Quite the contrary, the abysmal findings are the inevitable result of decades of tax, housing, land-use, economic, education, and social policies meant to benefit only some who call our region home, and not all who work hard and raise their families here. The consequence is that a third of the population has been left behind entirely. Worse yet, the predicament has become inter-generational, with the barriers to breaking the cycle of poverty statistically insurmountable. The costs imposed by policy-induced poverty in health and wellness outcomes, impeded educational achievement, mental health challenges, income deprivation and other social disparities are immeasurable.
It’s beyond disappointing that despite the clear call for “deliberate action,” there is little evidence that such action is pending. Instead, what we continue to see proposed are a host of feel-good measures, recently described by the Yolo County Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health Advisory Board as, “putting band-aids on issues.” Another disturbing, yet common place approach is a 21st century version of “trickle down” regional infrastructure investments, seemingly based upon the notion that some of the benefits not only will advance those of means, but that a portion of the benefit also will accrue to those that have been left behind. The Brookings assessment has laid bare, once and for all, the failure of these policies.
Instead, what is required are the development and execution of a comprehensive set of policies that focus on the root causes of poverty. These policies must drive down household expense, increase household income, or achieve a combination of both. In our work at Yolo Food Bank, we primarily serve food insecure working families and their children. Despite full-time employment, many of these families are living in poverty, and faced with tough choices between paychecks as the month too often stretches further than the money. It’s only because they can turn to Yolo Food Bank for nutrition that they’re able to meet their expenses for housing, medical care, and other basic needs. These families deserve the sense of pride and accomplishment of meeting all of their expenses on their own in exchange for their hard work
The Brookings assessment is a clarion call for regional action, as SACOG itself acknowledges in their 2019 Prosperity Strategy Framework. Deliberate, collective focus is needed on the local, regional, state and national levels to resolve this decades-long leadership failure. The time for transformative change is now.
Michael Bisch is the Executive Director of Yolo Food Bank