Half of Low-Income Californians Say They Live in Unhealthy Communities

Crime, growing inequality, environmental pollution, and lack of economic opportunity are taking a toll on Californians' health and wellness, a report from the California Wellness Foundation finds.

Based on survey responses from nearly twenty-two hundred Californians, the report, The Advancing Wellness Poll, (78 pages, PDF) found that 34 percent of all respondents and 46 percent of those with incomes below the federal poverty level considered their communities to be unhealthy places to live, compared with just 20 percent of those with incomes of at least $100,000. Similarly, the survey found that low-income residents were less likely than high-income residents to say their community is safe and free of crime (40 percent vs. 73 percent), has quality public schools (55 percent vs. 60 percent), offers good jobs (34 percent vs. 65 percent), or is a place where residents take an active interest in the community (39 percent vs. 65 percent), while they were more likely to say that they live near industrial plants or sites that pollute the air or water (53 percent vs. 31 percent). Respondents who rated their community negatively were less likely to report their own health as excellent or very good or to say they were very satisfied with their life.

The survey also found that 81 percent of the respondents considered low income are people of color and that, overall, African Americans and Latinos were more likely than whites and Asian Americans to say their communities were unhealthy places to live (42 percent and 41 percent vs. 27 percent and 32 percent); not safe or free of crime (55 percent and 53 percent vs. 40 percent and 42 percent), and not a place that offers good jobs (60 percent and 63 percent vs. 45 percent and 44 percent). Latinos and African Americans also were more likely than whites or Asian Americans to say that sub-optimal living conditions — including heightened racial tensions between police and residents, substandard housing, and lack of job opportunities, healthy food options, or outdoor space for recreation — pose a significant threat to their health. While majorities of all respondents said K-12 schools (77 percent), healthcare providers (75 percent), the local health department (74 percent), elected officials (71 percent), and police (71 percent) should be playing a major role in addressing the health and well-being of residents, African Americans and Latinos were more likely to say so.

The California Wellness Foundation is partnering with Zócalo Public Square to share the stories behind the data and spark conversations about health and wellness in communities facing health disparities.

"Where we live, work, and play shouldn't determine our health and wellness," said Judy Belk, the foundation's president and CEO. "But for too many Californians, the safety of our neighborhoods, the quality of our schools, the cleanliness of our environment and our ability to earn a living where we live affect our well-being."

"New Report Finds Many Californians Live in Unhealthy Communities." California Wellness Foundation Press Release 10/20/2016.