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June 26, 2022

Our haves and have-nots

We live in a world of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ — always have, and probably always will. But the divide between who has the most and who needs just a little bit more has never been greater. People like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg can make millions of dollars a day on Wall Street while neighborhoods of families can’t make ends meet or promise their children a better life.
We live in a world where the Sackler family that owned Perdue Pharma knowingly peddled opioid pills to the masses and created a public health crisis that has killed 800,000 people in the last decade. The Sacklers have been accused by many of the “crime of the century” but are offering various courts $6 billion to stay out of jail. It is criminal and obscene that this billionaire family will very likely have their offer accepted while another 100,000 victims of opioid addiction are predicted to die this year.
The obvious divide of economic fortunes and the profit-fueled epidemic of opioid addiction have not spared Sonoma County. We like to think of Sonoma County as a comfortable, supportive and safe place to raise a family, find work or open a business. But, even in a wine country paradise, we can’t just count our ‘haves.’ An honest yardstick of our communities’ well being and stature must also measure our ‘have-nots’ of homelessness, childhood poverty, lack of healthcare and mental health services and sub-minimum wages, among other economic and social justice issues.
The recently released “Portrait of Sonoma County 2021” report found “issues of inequity across Sonoma County,” adding that “inequity harms all of us” and “should not continue unchecked or unremedied.” The report’s authors are calling for an immediate “agenda for action” and said the split among Sonoma County’s population of ‘haves’ and ‘have not’s’ presents a “moral imperative.”
Recently, two potential pieces of an action agenda were brought forward by two separate private-public coalitions. A proposed voter initiative entitled, “Sonoma County Child Care and Children’s Health Initiative” seeks to raise $22 million annually from a sales tax increase to fund more childcare locations and services. A coalition led by First 5 Sonoma County, Corazón Healdsburg, the North Bay Leadership Council and others has launched a voter petition drive to add the sales tax initiative to the November 2022 ballot. They are calling themselves “Our Kids, Our Future.”

A second initiative based in Healdsburg would be the county’s first attempt to launch a guaranteed basic income program for low-income households. The program, when fully funded, will provide 50 local families $500 per month for two years to supplement their household income however they best sees fit. This pilot program is being supported by the Healthcare Foundation of Northern Sonoma County, Corazón Healdsburg and the City of Healdsburg.
There is also a coalition of labor unions and anti-poverty groups supporting a “Living Wage Act of 2022” to raise the minimum wage to $18 per hour by 2025 in 25 states, including California. In 1967 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The dignity of the individual will flourish when the decisions concerning his life are in his own hands, when he has the assurance that his income is stable and certain, and when he knows that he has the means to seek self-improvement.”
The Portrait of Sonoma County 2021 authors found areas of “heartening improvement” among health outcomes for many low-income and ethnic minority households over the past decade. But they also cited “deep-rooted challenges.” In bold text they wrote: “The inequities we see in Sonoma County are the results of decisions and policies people in power — most of them white men — put into action.”
Speaking to both our ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots,’ the Portrait authors called for “different decisions, made through (a) different, more inclusive decision-making process.” It is good news that there are a few early initiatives already under way.