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Numbers game 

The Federal Reserve Bank's snapshot of Humboldt

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Compared to other Californians, we Humboldters are twice as likely to live in a mobile home. Proportionately, there are also more military veterans and disabled people among us, and a whole lot more government workers. We're less educated and make less money than our fellow Californians. Perhaps consequently, a staggering percentage of us are struggling to pay the rent, or the mortgage.

These are but a few tidbits from Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco's recently released demographic, housing and economic data, which was given to the Journal by Redwood Coast Rural Action. Compiled by the bank's community development department and released last month, the data focuses on eight Humboldt County communities using numbers compiled from national sources, like the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Labor Statistics.

Gabriella Chiarenza, a research associate with the bank's community development department, said the SF branch covers 200 counties spread across nine states, ranging from Arizona up to Idaho and west (the branch also includes Guam and American Samoa). The local data dump, Chiarenza said, comes as a part of a pilot project attempting to paint a more nuanced picture of 20 of the bank's counties.

For years now, Chiarenza said, the bank's community development department has worked with local partners — community organizations, banks, governments, educators, housing providers and developers — to try to get an accurate picture of the community and its needs. Ultimately, she said, the hope is this will help the bank's regulators, as well as other departments that focus on community development and investment.

But the department is trying a different approach this year. Instead of simply asking its local partners to weigh in on a variety of issues, as it has done in the past, the bank is providing them with the data culled from federal sources and then looking for responses and explanations.

"When you look at the data, it really sort of creates a picture of the county," she said. "What we're asking is, 'Is this correct to you?'"


Not surprisingly, the data shows Humboldt County to be a lot whiter than the rest of California, with 86 percent of the population identifying as white as opposed to just 51 percent statewide. Where the data gets really interesting, though, is when it drills down to subsets of the community. Military veterans, for example, make up 10 percent of Humboldt's population — including 14 percent in Myrtletown, 12 percent in Fortuna and Rio Dell and 11 percent in Eureka — a hefty jump over the state average of 7 percent.

People with disabilities make up about 10 percent of California's population, but 16 percent of Humboldt's. Almost a quarter of the people living in Myrtletown — 23 percent — have a disability, and all eight Humboldt communities' rates eclipsed those of the state.

Likely because Humboldt is more dependent on rental housing (more on that later), the data shows that 10 percent of its population live in households with people not related to them. That's a big jump from the national rate of 6 percent.

The bank's data also shows that education levels separate Humboldt. Not only does a smaller percentage of Humboldt County residents hold a bachelor's degree (26) than California (31) and the nation (29), but the data shows a huge geographic divide in Humboldt's education levels. In Arcata, 46 percent of the population holds a bachelor's degree. Cutten follows closely at 40 percent. But move south and that number steadily drops, from 23 percent in Eureka to 18 percent in Fortuna to just 13 percent in Rio Dell.


If you rent in Humboldt, chances are you classify as "cost burdened" and may have trouble affording basic necessities like food, clothing, transportation and medical care. According to the bank's data, 62 percent of Humboldt County's rental households spend more than 30 percent of their total income to pay the rent, throwing their household budgets out of whack, according to the federal government's definitions.

The numbers are most acute in Arcata, with its thousands of university students, where 72 percent of renters classify as "cost burdened" and in Rio Dell, where a whopping 60 percent of home owners meet the designation. But it's not just renters struggling to make ends meet, according to the data, as 48 percent of Humboldt's home owners spend more than 30 percent of their household incomes on mortgage payments.

Possibly because housing costs are so high in relation to local incomes, a lot of Humboldt takes up residence in mobile homes. The data shows 9 percent of the county's housing units come in the form of mobile homes — double the state average. The prevalence of homes on wheels seems higher in the county's unincorporated areas — 17 percent in Humboldt Hill and 13 percent in McKinleyville — but Arcata (11 percent) and Fortuna (7 percent) also have rates higher than the national and state averages.


Because the bank's data sets drill down on specific communities, it offers a more nuanced picture of Humboldt's economic health than countywide totals. For example, when looking at poverty rates, we see that 22 percent of Eurekans live below the nationally poverty line, compared to 15 percent across the nation. But if we look at Cutten specifically, that number drops to 13 percent. In Myrtletown, it slips to 9 percent.

Unemployment rates are similarly jumpy, with 13 percent of Arcata's population jobless (a number likely skewed by those aforementioned students). Eureka, some might be surprised to learn, boasts an unemployment rate of 9 percent, a couple of percentage points below California as a whole. Cutten, apparently Humboldt's bastion of prosperity, has a jobless rate of just 3 percent.

Cutten, it's worth noting, is also the only Humboldt County community included in the data sets with a median household income — $61,563 — above the state's $61,400. If we assume those university students are again skewing the data, bringing Arcata's median household income down to $32,097, Eureka brings up the rear in this department, with households earning just $36,525, or about 60 percent of their California counterparts.

So where do Humboldt County households make their money? Disproportionately, it turns out, from a government job. Nationally and statewide about 15 percent of the population gets a pay check from a government entity. In Arcata, that number almost doubles to 28 percent. But other Humboldt communities hold their own: 23 percent in Rio Dell; 22 percent in Eureka, McKinleyville and Myrtletown; 21 percent in Fortuna and 18 percent in Cutten.

The bank's data sets also include a list of occupations with the largest job gains and losses across the county from 2007 to 2013. Over that period, the education/training/library sector took the hardest hit, losing a combined 2,260 jobs, followed by construction/extraction, which lost 1,960 jobs over the period. The biggest job gains were among healthcare practitioners, who added 1,010 positions to their ranks.

Interestingly, Humboldt's healthcare practitioners also saw their average income over the same period drop almost $3,000. It's unclear why that is, but it could be because of reimbursement changes under the Affordable Care Act or that those new positions added over the period were at the lower end of the pay scale and brought the overall average down.

Scientists took the largest hit over the study period, losing an average of $15,138 in annual income, followed by farming/fishing/forestry and those education/training/library employees, all of whom saw an average of about $5,000 shaved off their annual salaries. Construction/extraction employees, despite seeing job loss in the period, saw their wages jump almost $4,000, so it wasn't all bad news for them. Meanwhile, the runaway winner over the study period has to be the legal profession, which saw average salaries jump more than $11,000.

Humboldt State University economics professor Erick Eschker directs the Humboldt County Economic Index, which tracks countywide economic indicators monthly. Eschker told the Journal he doesn't see any big surprises in the Fed's data, or anything that contrasts with the index's findings. However, he said it is interesting to see the community-specific numbers.

"These data show that Cutten is similar to Arcata in many respects, including a highly educated population with high income on average and still a large portion working part time," he said.

It's just those students, renters, mobile home parks and government workers that distinguish the two. Details.


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