Sac Bee: Latinos are more likely to live in polluted communities. A new law could help

July 26, 2017

By: Jim Miller & Taryn Luna

California has made great strides in scrubbing smog from its skies, yet pollution remains a problem in some parts of the state, with 44 percent of Latinos living in communities with poor air quality compared to about one-quarter of non-Latinos, according to a new state Senate report.

The study, commissioned by the Legislative Latino Caucus, comes as Gov. Jerry Brown will be in Bell Gardens at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday to sign Assembly Bill 617, part of last week’s package of bills to extend the state’s cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The measure by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, arose from longstanding complaints by environmental justice activists that the state’s efforts to fight climate change have done little to improve the lives of people near the ports of Oakland and Long Beach, the Inland Empire, the San Joaquin Valley and other parts of the state with historically poor air quality.

The bill directs the California Air Resources Board to step up monitoring of local pollution sources and to craft solutions, including penalties. It also requires the air board every five years to produce a statewide strategy to reduce toxic air contaminants in places with high pollution.

“This bill is a big step forward on air quality,” Garcia said last week. “It’s a comprehensive approach that’s been needed for a long time in communities that have been treated as disposable.”

Poor air quality isn’t the only type of pollution Latinos are more likely to face. Half of Latinos live in high-pollution areas, compared to about one-fifth of non-Latinos, according to the Senate Office of Research report – compiled with data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the state Department of Finance and other sources.

The Latino caucus, the Legislature’s largest, includes 26 Democratic members of the Legislature. Other findings of the Senate report:

▪  About one-fifth of Latinos lack health insurance, compared to 7 percent of non-Latinos. Forty-four percent of Latinos had government-funded health insurance, compared to 32 percent of non-Latinos.

▪  Latinos tend to earn lower salaries than non-Latinos. They also are underrepresented in higher income brackets.

▪  More Latinos live in poverty, and they receive public assistance at slightly higher rate than non-Latinos.

▪  Latinos are more likely to be employed than non-Latinos – more of whom are not in the labor force – and work in blue-collar jobs such as manufacturing and construction.

▪  Latinos are less likely to own their home.