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Poverty rates increase

RAISIN CITY -- Times are tough for Latinos across the state and country, and Riverdale resident Norma Villa's experience is no different.

Since the mother of three daughters lost her job in the Riverdale Unified School District a year ago, she has looked for a new position, she said, "with no such luck." She has squeaked by on her unemployment checks and her husband's paychecks from a local dairy, but the dairy is expected to close this month.

Once her husband loses his job, it will become even harder for the family to pay its bills. Already, Villa said, she has had to stretch the food she receives from distributions so the family can eat each month.

"I go and buy chicken or beef or something like that, and then I freeze it, and with the vegetables they give us, I try to make ends meet," Villa said.

As she spoke, she stood in a long line outside Raisin City Elementary School and waited to collect large bags of cabbage, kale, melons and potatoes from the Community Food Bank's neighborhood market. She held a large black-and-white umbrella over her head to protect herself against the morning sun, which beat down on the nearby grapevines.

"We are thankful for these people that stay out in the sun to help us," she said. "I hope they keep on doing it for people like us that don't have enough money."

Though the great recession officially ended in June 2009, Latinos across the country continued to struggle with poverty and food insecurity in 2010, new government statistics show.

Nationwide, 26.6 percent of all Latinos in the United States lived in poverty in 2010, up from 25.3 percent in 2009, according to statistics released last week by U.S. Census Bureau. The poverty rate for whites was 13 percent in 2010.

California's overall poverty rate -- at 16.3 percent in 2010, up from 15.3 percent in 2009 -- was above the country's overall rate, 15.1 percent in 2010.

The average poverty threshold for a family of four in 2010 was $22,314, according to the Census Bureau.

In San Joaquín Valley counties -- where a legacy of poverty has been compounded by the recent implosion of the housing market -- the poverty rates could be nearly as bad, or worse.

In Fresno County, where the unemployment rate was 15.8 percent in August, 20.9 percent of residents lived below the poverty line, according to the 2005-09 American Community Survey, the most recent data available.

But the region's true poverty rate could be higher than that, said Simón Weffer-Elizondo, an assistant professor at the University of California, Merced.

"The poverty rates are probably undercounting the real poverty rates in our community," he said, since migrant laborers, undocumented immigrants, and those who do not know how to navigate the government's social support system, are likely not included in local poverty figures.

Latinos' rates of food insecurity -- when households were at times during the year unable to acquire enough food to feed their family members, due to insufficient money or other resources -- were also much higher than the national rate in 2010, according to figures released earlier this month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

While the national rate of food insecurity was 14.5 percent in 2010, the food insecurity rate in Latino households was 26.2 percent.

Raisin City resident Vangie Urías did not need government statistics to know that her agricultural community has sunk even deeper into poverty.

As the volunteer coordinator of the local food distributions, she has watched as the numbers of people seeking food at the community's two monthly distributions have swelled to 300 or 400. Too often, she said, that free food doesn't cover the needs of families, especially those with many children.

"People are actually calling us throughout the weekdays to see if we have any food to give away," Urías said. "We get together out of our own home -- our own refrigerators -- we get together some food. There's a really big need out here."

Send e-mail to: rplevin@vidaenelvalle.com

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