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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Study Shows Residents Safer, Healthier, but Child Poverty Rising

County: The report by the Council of Governments also indicates child-care costs are among the highest in the state. Other topics include jobs and education.

May 04, 2000|GINA PICCALO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Home construction is on the rise and Ventura County residents are healthier, safer and better-educated compared with other Southern California counties, according to a report released Wednesday.

But child-care costs are among the highest in the state, more children are living in poverty than in years past and fewer people can afford to live and work here compared with other counties.

The report card is the first ever issued by the Ventura County Council of Governments and is part of a larger report by the Southern California Assn. of Governments.

Although the council's report offers no grades and few recommendations, it gives city and county lawmakers important data for decision making, officials said.

"I think the decision makers and the public need to know whether things are getting worse or better," said the report's author, Kim Hocking.

Hocking, a senior planner with Ventura County, spent about six months compiling data in 12 categories including housing, jobs, poverty, crime, child care, air and water quality, health and education.

He presented his findings to the Council of Governments' board last week and publicly distributed the report Wednesday.

The council's board, which includes elected officials from each of the county's 10 cities and the county Board of Supervisors, will use the report to set goals and priorities for county problems during a one-day retreat next month, officials said.

Council members were alarmed that the report showed 13.8% of children are living in poverty, up from 10.2% in 1990.

A report in November by the Oakland-based advocacy Children Now showed similar findings and determined that many of the children living below the poverty level in Ventura County are eligible for the Women, Infants and Children food subsidy, but do not participate in the federal program.

Local figures, however, are about half the statewide child poverty average of 30%, according to Census Bureau data from 1995.

Supervisor Kathy Long said city and county governments should use the figures when making policy decisions.

"When people see poverty levels going up they ought to be startled," Long said. "I don't know if you can equate that to an increase in population but I think you can equate it to cost of housing."

Although Ventura County's 4.8% unemployment rate in 1999 dipped below the 5.3% statewide average, and more housing units are being built here now than in the last 10 years, affordable housing is at its lowest level since 1992, the council's report shows.

Only 41% of the housing in Ventura County is affordable, compared with 53% of housing in other Southern California counties and 55% nationwide, the report states.

The number of new housing units in Ventura County increased 39.6% from 1998 to 1999 to 4,442 units. That is the highest pace of construction since 1989, when 5,026 units were built, but still falls below the county's 1986 peak of 7,513 homes.

Meanwhile, child-care services in Ventura County are among the most costly in the state. In 1993, weekly costs for child care in Ventura County averaged $88, higher than $82 in Riverside County, but slightly lower than $90 in San Bernardino County. The report compares Ventura County to San Bernardino and Riverside in several categories because they have similar populations.

Licensed child-care employment grew nine times faster than overall civilian employment from 1988 to 1997, according to the report. Now, child-care workers in Ventura County outnumber farm workers, accounting for 4,158 jobs in 1998 compared with 3,162 employees in the agriculture industry during the same period.

Ventura County also has fewer infant deaths, births to teens, motor vehicle accidents, gun-related deaths, suicides, homicides and fewer cases of gonorrhea, AIDS, cerebrovascular disease and heart disease compared with Riverside and San Bernardino counties and state and national averages, the report showed.

Violent crime in Ventura County has declined steadily since 1992. There were 355.2 incidents of violent crime in Ventura County in 1997, about half the number statewide and in San Bernardino and Riverside counties during the same period.

Ventura County has the lowest high school dropout rate compared with those counties. The report states that 2.1% of Ventura County's high school students dropped out in 1997-98 compared with 2.5% in Riverside County and 3.5% in San Bernardino County.

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