The number of people living at or below the federal poverty level in Santa Barbara County increased by 18,655 over the past 10 years, bringing the total number to 73,741. That’s 18 percent of the population, as opposed to 14.3 percent 10 years ago. In that same period, the population of Santa Barbara County grew by just under 25,000. The rise in the level of poverty here mirrors state and national trends. Nationwide, the new census found that one in six residents lives below the poverty level. In Santa Barbara, it’s one out of 5.5. But 10 years ago, it was one in every seven.
The numbers are stark but not surprising. More than 21 percent were under the age of 18, up from 17 percent 10 years ago. The number of older people in poverty increased from 6.2 percent to 7.1. Of the 91,000 families that responded to federal census takers, 3,840 earned less than $10,000 a year, and nearly 11,000 made between $10,000 and $25,000. By contrast, 7,390 families reported incomes of $200,000 a year or more, and another 6,300 between $150,000 and $200,000. The average Santa Barbara male, full-time, year-round worker earned $46,341, while his average female counterpart earned $39,618. Of the county’s total population, 86,000 are without health insurance; of its workforce of 200,000, 137,000 have some coverage while 41,000 are without. Of the poor, 33,000 spoke only English and 42,000 spoke Spanish.
At the same time, Rob Pearson, director of the Santa Barbara Housing Authority, expressed certainty that Congress would cut funding to the Department of Housing and Urban Development — from which he draws revenues — and that he might be forced to cut the number of people now with Section 8 housing vouchers. Currently, he said, the Housing Authority has given out such vouchers to 2,185 households. That’s the most ever, he said.
In the past, some landlords were reluctant to accept tenants who paid with vouchers because in good times, landlords can get higher rents than the vouchers can cover. But in uncertain economic times, landlords appreciate the certainty of a regular paycheck. In past recessions, when some homeowners found themselves forced to rent, Pearson said rental vacancy rates shrank. This one, he said, was different, and the vacancy rate has remained flat the past couple of years. He speculated this was because tenants have doubled and tripled up in increasing numbers. The number of people on Pearson’s waiting list remains about the same. For his 1,200 housing units, Pearson said he has a waiting list of 5,400.