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MCF NewsPress Releases › MCF Releases Report on Disparities in Marin County

A Portrait of Marin is first comprehensive effort to assess gaps in health, education, and income.

MCF Releases Report on Disparities in Marin County

January 18, 2012

contact: Vikki Garrod (415.464.2527 or via email)

Click on "A Portrait of Marin (Spanish)" to download the Spanish version of the report

Click on "A Portrait of Marin (English)" to download the English version of the report

Click on "Health Disparities in Marin" to download a summary of this issue.

Click on "Education Disparities in Marin" to download a summary of this issue.

Click on "Income Disparities in Marin" to download a summary of this issue.

A new report released today by the Marin Community Foundation (MCF) reveals stark disparities between those in the county who are better off than most Californians and those who are falling behind on such basic measures as longevity, education, and income.

The report, which analyzes these gaps based on geography, race, and gender, finds that:

Residents in Ross are likely to live 13 years longer than residents in the Hamilton neighborhood of Novato—88 years compared to 75.2 years, with longevity in Ross a decade longer than the national average. Plus, the median personal earnings of Ross residents are more than double those of the typical American worker, while the typical worker in the Canal area of San Rafael earns just over $21,000, about the same as an American worker in the late 1960s.

While 88 percent of white children are enrolled in preschool, only 47 percent of Latino children are.

Though Marin’s overall high school dropout rate is very low, at 7.3 percent, the rate has remained persistent, and the racial and ethnic gaps in dropout rates are not decreasing over time, despite targeted in-school efforts. For example, the drop-out rate for African Americans, 21 percent, is five times that of whites, at 4.1 percent, and Latinos drop out at more than four times the rates of whites, at 18.3 percent.

In Marin, as across the nation, the schools whose students have greater needs tend to get fewer public dollars. Furthermore, low-income children, who would benefit most from high-quality preschools, are least likely to be enrolled in one.

The typical female worker living in Marin earns nearly $14,000 less per year than the typical male worker—a larger earnings gap than the one for California ($10,217) and for the country as a whole ($11,179).

The distribution of income in Marin is exceedingly lopsided; the top fifth of Marin taxpayers take home about 71 percent of the county’s total income. The bottom fifth earns 1.3 percent of the total income.

African Americans in Marin, as in the rest of the U.S., have a shorter life expectancy than any racial or ethnic group (79.5 years), compared to 90.9 years for Asian Americans, 83.5 years for whites, and 88.2 years for Latinos.

Commissioned by the Marin Community Foundation, the report, called A Portrait of Marin, was developed by the American Human Development Project of the Social Science Research Council. It ranks the well-being of Marin residents on a scale from 0 to 10 using the American Human Development Index (HD Index), a composite measure of health (as measured by longevity), education (measured by school enrollment and educational attainment), and standard of living (based on income). The HD Index has been used since the 1980s by the United Nations to assess the well-being of people in developing countries and complements Gross Domestic Product and other economic measures as a way to assess the opportunities available to people to realize their full potential.

The American Human Development Project has been applying this approach to analyzing the well-being of America as a whole and several states since 2008. This is the first report to analyze a specific county.

According to the report’s authors, Sarah Burd-Sharps and Kristen Lewis, co-directors of the American Human Development Project, “These measures, taken together, indicate the possibilities open to people and determine the freedom they have to lead the kinds of lives they want to live.”

The highest HD Index ranking for communities in Marin is Ross, which is 90 percent white, with a composite index of 9.70; the Canal area of San Rafael, which is 76 percent Latino, scores the lowest, at 3.18, below that of West Virginia, the lowest-ranking state overall. Using this scale to measure the comparative well-being of racial groups in Marin, the highest HD Index is for Asian Americans (8.88) and whites (8.44), with a wide gap between those groups and African Americans (5.72) and Latinos (5.17).

“We’ve known for a long time that Marin, on an overall average, scores highly—compared to both national and statewide measures—in terms of life expectancy, educational attainment, and health,” said MCF President and CEO Thomas Peters, Ph.D.

“But this report digs into those numbers to show how, and why, many here are struggling to live long and productive lives. It also suggests some of the underlying causes for these disparities—such as discriminatory housing patterns and the allocation of public and private funding.”

Peters emphasized that the report also points to potential solutions, from changes in public policy to ensuring that nonprofits, schools, and public agencies can effectively help those who are falling behind.

“The persistence of disparities is not simply a case of cause and effect,” added Peters. “Factors like education, health, and income reinforce each other and create, for some, a cycle of success, and for others, a cycle of ongoing struggle and inability to thrive.

“Plus,” he stated, “this report found a strong overlap in findings by geographic area and by demographic groups, indicating high levels of residential segregation by race and ethnicity. This only makes the cycle of poverty that much more difficult to overcome.”

Peters added the Marin Community Foundation will use this report to help galvanize action among elected officials, nonprofit leaders, concerned citizens, and others. “We will look at everything from setting policies that encourage easier access to healthy foods and focusing job growth in sectors that can create stable, good-paying jobs to expanding access to early childhood education and expanding the availability of affordable housing.

“This report can serve as a blueprint for anyone with a concern about the well-being and future of Marin,” he stated. “Having such a clear and compelling understanding of the numbers can help us focus on eliminating disparities of opportunity. We want to help shape a community known as much for its equity as its prosperity.”

“What we are seeing in Marin is a harbinger of what’s to come nationwide, with important implications for where to focus public and private resources in the years ahead,” said Burd-Sharps, co-author of A Portrait of Marin.

“The fastest-growing segment of the population in Marin—as in the country—is Latino,” added Lewis, co-author of the report. “Today’s Latino children are the tax-paying workforce of tomorrow, yet Latinos today lag on the American HD Index, especially in educational attainment and incomes. Improving HD Index scores among Latinos is critical to the future quality of the workforce and tax base, and to the economic competitiveness not only of Marin but of America.”

For more information:

To view the report in an easy-to-read format, to find additional information (including fact sheets on health, education, and income disparities in Marin), and to explore an interactive map, visit

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