Community Link
A newsletter of Napa Valley Community Foundation
October 2013
Red Flags and White Papers


Suppose I told you that this newsletter was composed on an electric typewriter.


Better still, imagine that it was dictated to my executive assistant, who typed it up for me while I relaxed with a late-morning glass of scotch, and several smooth and flavorful Lucky Strike cigarettes.

Yuck, right?


As much as I enjoy the AMC series Mad Men, I wouldn't want to live inside the outdated business or cultural mores of the 1960s.

Standards have a way of evolving over time, often for the better.


Which is why it's always puzzled me that we employ the same measure for poverty today as we did 50 years ago in the Kennedy administration.

The Federal Poverty Level (FPL) is an absolutely critical tool. It's the number used by the U.S. Government to determine who is poor and, as such, shapes most of our public conversations about low-income families, both nationally and locally.


It defines who is eligible to receive a host of assistance programs, like reduced-cost school lunches and Food Stamps.


But it has been calculated in roughly the same fashion for five decades, despite significant changes in the way that families now live and spend their dollars, and dramatic regional differences in what things actually cost.


Earlier this month, a new way to measure poverty in California was proposed in a white paper issued by the Public Policy Institute of California, in partnership with the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality.


Among other things, the California Poverty Measure, or CPM, takes regional housing costs into account, and because it does, it contains sobering news for Napa Valley.


Under the CPM, Napa County has the second-highest poverty rate in the state, at almost 26 percent. This figure is more than double the traditional Federal poverty measure for Napa County, which has hovered between 9 percent and 12 percent in recent years.


The high cost of local housing is not a new story in our community. On the eve of the great recession in 2007, Napa was the least affordable small metropolitan housing market in the country, according to a study by the National Association of Home Builders.


Our own 2012 white paper on the economic and fiscal impact of immigration in Napa County said more than 40 percent of Latino immigrants who rent their homes live in crowded conditions (defined as more than one person per room), a rate almost 15 times higher than their non-Latino, native-born peers.


We also have more seniors per capita than most counties in the state, and the high cost of housing is a very significant challenge for those living on a fixed income.


Clearly, the connection between poverty and housing is a real one in our community, and merits serious reflection. I hope you'll take a moment to read the recent report on CPM, and contact me with any questions or thoughts you may have.


Looking at our housing-adjusted CPM of 25.5 percent, it occurs to me that even Mad Men's advertising genius, Don Draper, would have trouble disguising the hardship that's so evident in these numbers.


Terence Mulligan



Giving together for greater good.


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