Thursday, December 15, 2005

Economic Disparity in the District

There are some significant differences between San Joaquin County, which constitutes just over half of the district, and the parts of the other three counties that form the remainder of the district. I’ve mentioned this before, but I would like to look at this a little more systematically today.

According to the Modesto Bee, the Congressional Research Service has just come out with a long report showing that the San Joaquin Valley is poorer by some standards than Appalachia. Margee Ensign spoke about this somewhat in her campaign speeches, but it still hasn’t gotten enough attention. I must say as a Californian that it’s pretty staggering to think that a part of the state is so impoverished that it ranks below Appalachia, which is a region well-known for its endemic poverty. The article says:

“By a wide range of indicators, the San Joaquin Valley is one of the most economically depressed regions of the United States," the Congressional Research Service concluded in its final version of a report begun about a year ago. Even notoriously poor Appalachia stretching from the northeastern states to the South fares better in some respects.

Per-capita income is lower in the valley's eight counties than in the 68-county area known as Central Appalachia. The valley's public assistance rates are higher than Appalachia's. Uncle Sam also seems to be investing more in Appalachia than in the valley. Per capita federal spending overall was lower in the San Joaquin Valley than in the depressed Central Appalachian sub-region, the report concluded.

To be clear, this report covers all of the San Joaquin Valley, which stretches more or less from Stockton to Bakersfield. As far as I can tell, San Joaquin County itself is a bit better off economically than the parts of the San Joaquin Valley further to the south. Still, San Joaquin County has much more in common with the San Joaquin Valley as a whole than it has in common with the other parts of CA-11. In fact, the differences between SJC and other the parts of the district are pretty staggering. It’s hard to quantify the cultural differences, so let’s just look at the economic differences.

First, let me caution you about reading too much into the averages you might see. Nick Juliano, on his Political Notes blog, cited a district-wide median household income of around $62,000. (He was using the statistic in a different way, so what I’m saying is not intended at all as a critique of his use, which was perfectly proper).

Don’t let that median household income fool you. There are huge income disparities between San Joaquin County and the rest of the district. For example, in 2000 Stockton, the largest city in the county, had a median household income (MHI) of around $35,500 and Tracy (Pombo’s hometown) had a MHI of around $63,000. This contrast to Danville (where Steve Filson lives), which had a median household income of $114,000, and Pleasanton (where Jerry McNerney lives), which had a median household income of $91,000.

Furthermore, the differences are exacerbated at the higher end of the income spectrum. Almost everyone in the district with a household income over $125,000 a year lives somewhere other than San Joaquin County.

If you’re interested, you can check out the statistics for all of the cities and towns (that I know of) in the district, which I have organized by county:

What’s the point?

Well first, all the candidates we have in the race come to San Joaquin County as outsiders in a very literal sense. But in addition to this, I think there is a huge issue of class that will have a big effect on who wins the Democratic primary.

As I’ve mentioned before, Steve Filson is a well-off candidate from the richest part of the district. He’s not going to be electable if he does not find a way to connect with, or otherwise inspire, the voters in SJC. Right now, I don’t see either a political message or a personality that is going to do it for him. Jerry McNerney, whatever else you think about him, clearly seems to be doing a better job of connecting with folks in San Joaquin County.

Richard Pombo, who admittedly makes Filson look like a pauper by way of comparison, is also to connect with voters in SJC. He is able to do that partially because he is undeniably a local, and he plays to the image of a local boy who did well for himself and got elected to Washington. But he also is much more socially conservative than any of the Democrats in the race, and this plus his skill at using rhetoric to mask his political ideology, makes Pombo’s values appear much more in line with the values and traditions of San Joaquin County voters than the values really are. Like most things in politics, in this case perception counts more than reality.

Of course, Pombo does not represent his constituents’ economic interests, especially those that live in SJC. I think that provides an opening for a Democratic candidate who sticks to kitchen table issues and puts forth a populist message.

He voted to eliminate the estate tax. How many voters in San Joaquin County do you think that helped? Richard Pombo is fighting to let Canadian mining companies snap up federal land at fire sale prices, but he acquiesces to cuts in food stamps. Who’s he representing? Not his constituents. Richard Pombo is causing a ruckus about opening ANWR to drilling, but does not lift a finger to help his constituents widen I-205. Who’s he representing? Clearly not the people who voted to put him in office. Richard Pombo is one of the most powerful members in the House of Representatives, but he hardly does one damn thing for his constituents. He’s too busy trying to allow an Indian casino to open in upstate New York even though nobody in the community wants one. Or anything it seems, but represents the people he is duty-bound to represent. And I think this is one of his biggest weaknesses.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post; this is exactly the message that hopefully will win in November.

On a more generic level, Dems have not done a great job of getting a message like this out; one of the most infuriating and perplexing trends of the last 8 years is blue collar workers voting for Bush against their own economic interests. Dems have lost that base and there are, as you no doubt know, a million and one theories on how to get it back (or why we lost it in the first place).

4:08 PM, December 15, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post Matt.

In the immortal words of Stephen Colbert... you nailed it.

Here's hoping the Filson and McNerney camps read this post.


1:10 AM, December 17, 2005  

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