Growing inequity visible in Merced County, report shows

Growing inequity in health care, education and income is placing Californians and Mercedians on very different life paths, according to a presentation on human development by United Ways of California.

Wednesday’s presentation, put together using data from Measure America, a project of the Social Science Research Council, took a look at states and counties based on the Human Development Index. HDI scores are based on life expectancy, school enrollment, educational degree attainment and personal earnings.

Local community leaders heard from Henry Gascon, program and policy development manager at United Way. Gascon revealed to those present that 42 percent of California’s population, including that of Merced County, is “struggling.”

The report splits the state into five Californias based on a zero to 10 scale of index values, with 10 being the best possible result. “One Percent California,” made up of only six towns in Santa Clara County, has the highest index value. According to the report, most adults in this area are highly educated and highly paid.

“Disenfranchised California” is made up of areas with the lowest index values. These include some Los Angeles neighborhoods as well as some urban and rural areas in the San Joaquin Valley. Merced, like most of the state, falls under “Struggling California,” made up of areas with the second to lowest index values.

The report states that in “Struggling California,” 1 in 3 children lives in poverty, 37 percent of the households with children are headed by one parent and 18 percent of young people are neither working nor in school.

On the zero to 10 scale, Merced County has an index value of 3.78. This compares with a statewide value at 5.78 and a national value at 5.07.

Locally, the report found:

▪ A child born in Merced County today is expected to live 79.4 years, nearly two years less than the state average.

▪ Some 37.5 percent of residents in Los Banos and Livingston have less than a high school diploma. This compares with a national average of 13.6 percent.

▪ The median personal income in Merced County is $22,625, compared with a state average of $30,502.

A lack of jobs, which is stunting economic growth in the Valley, Gascon explained, is the main reason for the poor results in income value.

Based on the index values, Gascon said, some areas in the Central Valley can be compared to developing countries.

Donna Alley, superintendent at Le Grand Union High School District, attended Wednesday’s presentation at the United Way of Merced County’s office. Merced’s index value, specifically the education findings, did not surprise her, she said.

Out of 10, the county’s education index shows a value of 3.06, compared with the state’s 5.04. But she is also seeing an increasing number of students striving to get a high school diploma, even if it means attending high school for a fifth year.

She said she was a little concerned with Merced County’s low income index value. In the three areas measured, Merced fared the lowest in income, with a value of 2.72, while the state average stands at 4.79.

“In that sense, my biggest concern is that we might have a lot of potential, but if we don’t see economic growth, our kids will continue to leave Merced,” Alley said.

The full report can be found at

Sun-Star staff writer Ana B. Ibarra can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or