Tri-Valley officials, nonprofit leaders, and corporate and private foundations recently gathered for a discussion about "Race, Power and Poverty" delivered by Sheila Burks, manager of equity and inclusion at the Alameda County Food Bank.
Burks discussed the intersectionality of race and power, and how they contribute to poverty in the Tri-Valley. She also shared insights into the systemic causes of poverty and ways to address them.
The Tri-Valley Nonprofit Alliance Anti-Poverty Collaborative hosted the March 23 event in person at the Rosewood Commons Conference Center in Pleasanton as well as virtually via Zoom.
Burks kicked off the conversation by introducing herself as a "61-year-old Black woman", noting that these aspects of her identity are significant because "in this work of racial and economic justice, I have less time than a lot of people holding this space." She said that at the heart of her work is the goal to, "prepare the world to greet our Black and Brown babies with love, joy, curiosity and affection."
As part of the presentation, Burks shared several countywide statistics on racial and ethnic diversity and the historic, systemic roots of inequality such as the practice of redlining which refers to the denial of services like mortgages, insurance loans and other financial services to residents of certain areas based on their race or ethnicity.
While this form of discrimination is prohibited today, the effects of it still persist and contribute to the racial disparities in poverty levels throughout Alameda County and the entire country.
Burks presented some specific Tri-Valley statistics on poverty, including that there are 87,955 people living in Livermore of which 4% struggle with poverty, and of the 79,871 people living in Pleasanton, nearly 5% struggle with poverty. In Dublin, 3.7% of its population of 72,589 are struggling with poverty.
To afford two-bedroom housing in Alameda County, a household needs to earn $43.73 an hour, which is nearly three times the minimum wage of $15.50 per hour.
"Oftentimes, the Tri-Valley is viewed as a suburbia and as a result, poverty is not discussed or addressed. However, this is not the case. There is poverty in our neighborhoods, it's just hidden. The message that I heard was that we can all experience poverty because it's a circumstance, not a lifestyle," Livermore school board Trustee Yanira Guzmán said in a statement following the event.
Burks emphasized during her presentation that the effects of racism and poverty is a collective issue. "If we're still talking about 'they, them and those people', we're missing the point. This is about we, our and us," she said.
Black and brown households are more than twice as likely to have challenges paying day-to-day expenses, according to Burks, but poverty can also be looming for many Alameda County residents of all races.
According to information from the Public Policy Institute of California shared during Burks' presentation, most Californians can be pushed into poverty by the smallest expenses. People near poverty are more likely to be pushed into poverty by a small expense than a large expense and as expenses grow, the total number of people threatened climbs. Three out of four people near poverty -- or 5.4 million -- are pushed into poverty by an extra $1,000.
While society is recovering from a pandemic that presented many financial challenges for people, Burks highlighted that a number of families were actually able to have more stability during the pandemic because of the extra support and benefits that were being offered.
She pointed to the example of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) -- or CalFresh in California -- which saw a temporary increase put in place amid the pandemic to assist low-income individuals and families to buy groceries.
"The poverty rate in 2021 went down -- in the middle of a pandemic and a racial justice movement -- how did that happen? Things like the child tax credit, things like enhanced unemployment benefits, things like the eviction moratorium," she said.
The additional SNAP benefits were discontinued in March and allotments returned to normal amounts, which for many families is barely enough to make ends meet.
Further underscoring the correlation between poverty and public assistance, Burks shared an overview of "Five Facts Everyone Should Know About Deep Poverty", according to a 2015 report from the California Budget & Policy Center. The report spotlighted how public support and strengthening the safety net for people through federal measures is critical to addressing poverty.
Among the five facts in the report are that children comprise a disproportionate share of Californians living in deep poverty, being born into deep poverty more than doubles children's chances of having low incomes as adults, adults who live in deep poverty face significant barriers to employment, deep poverty rises and falls depending on the strength of the safety net and strengthening public supports would lift more Californians out of deep poverty.
"The state of poverty and racism in our community was made by policies -- that needs to be very clear to you -- and so it's going to take policy and changes to institutions and structures to get out of this," Burks told the audience during the event.
The Tri-Valley Nonprofit Alliance Anti-Poverty Collaborative is focused on creating a collective voice and taking action to alleviate poverty in the Tri-Valley, according to a statement from the organization.
The "Race, Power and Poverty" event was part of the group's effort to bring community leaders and residents together to further its goals of establishing a more equitable society and eradicating poverty. The organization plans to host another event in late September or early October titled, "Bridging the Gap: Expert Insights on Alleviating Poverty in the Tri-Valley."
For more information about the Tri-Valley Nonprofit Alliance Anti-Poverty Collaborative, visit www.tvnpa.org.