A tale of two counties: Study shows bleak quality of life for Orange County poor

Anaheim mayor Tom Tait speaks at a presentation detailing disparities in the quality of life for Orange County residents.
Anaheim mayor Tom Tait speaks at a presentation detailing disparities in the quality of life for Orange County residents. Ben Bergman/KPCC

Orange County is known for million dollar mansions, shopping malls galore - and of course, Disneyland.
 
But peel back that sunny façade, and the quality of life is bleak for many OC residents. That's the unsettling finding in a new report unveiled in Anaheim that looked at Orange County poverty.
 
"The truth is that for far more members of our community than any of us have ever realized, it’s a daily struggle for the essentials of life," said Shelley Hoss, president of the Orange County Community Foundation, which released the report.

About half of Orange County students live in families with annual incomes of $40,000 or less for a family of four. The report's numbers relied on analysis donated from the consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

"We know that there are people living at the poverty level, but the fact that it is half of K-12 students in Orange County, that was the startling factor," said Hoss.

The study also revealed that only about half of Orange County third-graders read at a proficient level. And education spending, which was already lower than state or national averages, declined 8% over the last three years.
 
Al Mijares, Orange County school superintendent, was among the county leaders who attended a presentation of the study's findings. He said everything in the study – safety net, health and education - ties together.

"Students who don't have clothing, nutrition, a safe place to live, and educational opportunity have less than a fighting chance to make it. And if they don't make it, we all lose," said Mijares.

A major reason why Orange County is a terrible place to be poor is that the cost of living is so high. A worker earning minimum wage would have to work 133 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom apartment.
 
Another reason, according to Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait, is that the county is so disparate; there’s not much sense of community.
 
"If Orange County were a city, we'd be the third largest city in the country," said Tait. "Because we’re a county and we have 34 different cities, sometimes there's not a feeling of kinship."

Tait says he hopes the study will be a first step to help elected officials and the people who live and work in Orange County come together to come up with solutions.

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