Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Tale of Two Californias

As Dickens said "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" and the phrase could be applied to California here in April 2009.

The unemployment data released last week touts California at the top of the jobless lists at 11% - worst in the country - and yet it's not a reflection of reality in California because the sad truth is there are two Californias with very different challenges and for one the problem is a lot higher than 11%.

While the Bay Area chugs along at 8.3% and decreasing unemployment, a slowly recovering housing market and companies still competing for engineers, we have sister counties with unemployment at depression levels and higher. In the Great Depression unemployment in the U.S. peaked at 24.9% in 1933. Imperial County today has an unemployment rate of 26.9% closely followed by counties like Merced and Yuba at 18% - you can see the sobering Central Valley stats here and a map of California's unemployment rate by county here.

It's too easy to forget how close the poorest communities are to the hubbub of a tech world where Facebook raises $200M and NEA raises over $2B for it's new fund (although some do predict the death of venture capital as we know it - more on that later). High end wine stores still do well, and you still can't get a table at the Village Pub without a reservation.

But with the California budget in crisis and the Governor proposing to drastically cut California's Family PACT Program, the most vulnerable members of our community are more at risk now than they have been since the Depression. Planned Parenthood Mar Monte (the largest PP affiliate which is based in San Jose and covers many of the poorer counties in the Central Valley) has seen a 15% increase in the number of visits so far this year because so many people have no other health care options. PPMM provides broad health services (yes, only 3% of the services are abortion - a little understood fact) and families are coming in who have never needed the safety net of PPMM free health care before but they have no choice and no access to medical care.

Now, more than ever, is the time to pay attention to your donations and to give to the communities that support the most vulnerable in our society. And while California may seem like the land of milk and honey and Malibu Barbies on 90210 it's the land of tremendous struggle just 100 miles away. When you are approached by a friend to give to the non-profits trying to help (and for some of you it'll be me) please give.

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