The Public Eye

Reports from the Bee's investigative team

June 23, 2011
New national, state statistics on the uninsured

Fresh data from the Centers for Disease Control shows 48.6 million Americans of all ages (16.0 percent of the population) lacking health insurance at the time of the survey in 2010. Also at that point in time 7.8 percent of children under 18 and 33.9 percent of young adults (19-25) were uninsured.

CDC researchers also crunched the 2010 numbers for the 20 largest states. The percentage of uninsured people ranged from 4.0 percent in Massachusetts to 26.1 percent in Arizona. California came in bit above the national average at 18.6 percent.

In 2010 60.2 percent of Americans had health insurance coverage provided by private (non-governmental) sources; 31.4 percent had coverage provided by government -- including Medicaid, Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), state-sponsored or other government-sponsored health plan, Medicare (disability), and military plans. In California the private/public split was 56.1 and 28.8 percent, respectively.

June 16, 2011
Hate crimes decreasing in nation

A new federal report shows the number of hate crimes falling from 239,400 in 2003 to 148,400 in 2009. In addition the rate of violent crime victimizations dropped from 0.8 to 0.5 per 1,000 persons over the same period. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics about 87 percent of hate crime victimizations involve a violent crime, the rest involve property.

In nearly 90 percent of hate crime victimizations, victims judged the offender was motivated by racial or ethnic prejudice or both. Overall, motivation for hates crimes breaks down this way:

Race: 58 percent
Ethnicity: 30 percent
Association (with a particular group): 25 percent
Sexual orientation: 15 percent
Perceived characteristics: 13 percent
Religion: 12 percent
Disability: 10 percent.

In 54 percent of such crimes, the offender was not known to the victim. The offender had a weapon in about 20 percent of cases. And the victim suffered an some type of injury in 23 percent of cases.

June 14, 2011
Ambulance diversions impacting heart attack mortality

The practice of rerouting ambulances away from crowded emergency rooms is tied to higher mortality of heart attack victims. A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that frequent diversions are correlated to an increase in avoidable patient deaths.

ambulance.JPGThe number of emergency rooms has dropped in the past 20 years and hospitals now are often forced to temporarily divert ambulances when facilities are crowded with patients waiting for beds.

Researchers studied 14,000 elderly patients in four California counties and found a three percent difference in death rates (15 versus 18) between ERs that did not divert and those that diverted at least 12 hours out of the day.

They also warn that high ambulance rerouting is symptomatic of the bigger problem of providing care to a growing number of patients with finite medical resources.

In 2002 The Bee reported on efforts to reduce the chronic overcrowding that caused routine diversions at Sacramento-area hospitals at that time. See attached articles.

PHOTO CREDIT: A patient arrives by ambulance at Sutter General Hospital. 2002 Sacramento Bee photo by Dick Schmidt

June 8, 2011
Economy of most states grew in 2010

Driven by gains in durable goods manufacturing, retail trade, and finance and insurance, U.S. real GDP grew 2.6 percent in 2010 following a 2.5 drop in 2009.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis also reported yesterday that GDP grew in 48 states and Washington, D.C. North Dakota lead the nation in percent change (7.1). New York (5.1), Indiana (4.6), Massachusetts (4.2) and West Virginia (4.0) trailed behind. California ranked near the bottom with a modest 1.8 percent increase.

The Golden State saw the biggest growth in the durable-goods manufacturing and information sectors (0.76 and 0.53 percent, respectively). Sectors that suffered during this period include non-durable goods manufacturing (-0.35) and construction (-0.20).

June 1, 2011
Over one-third of California teens not getting gym classes at school

PE.JPGMore than 38 percent of the California's adolescent students (12-17) are not receiving any physical education at school -- despite state mandates. In addition only 42 percent of teens participate in PE on a daily basis, according to a study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

School-based PE add an average of 18 minutes of exercise per week to the overall physical activity needed to maintain good health. UCLA researchers found only 19 percent of state teens getting the 60 minutes of activity per day recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Student participation physical education has been reduced -- if not cut completely -- at many schools due to budget cuts and various exemptions (such as making room for driver's training). The study suggests that PE class requirements be re-instituted for teens of all ages. (Participation tends to fall dramatically as students get older.)

PHOTO CREDIT: Sheldon High School students begin their PE class with calisthenics and stretching exercises in the school's main gymnasium. 1999 Sacramento Bee photo by Jay Mather

May 26, 2011
U.S. Hispanic population grew four times faster than nation in past decade

A study by the Census Bureau found that Hispanics accounted for more than half of the growth of the U.S. population from 2000 to 2010. In that decade, the Hispanic population grew 43.0 percent compared to 9.7 percent for the overall population.

The Bureau also found that the percentage of U.S. Hispanics citing Mexican ancestry increased from 58.5 percent to 63.0 percent over the same period.

In California Hispanics accounted for 90.0 percent of the state's increase, the Hispanic population growing 27.8 percent compared to an overall 10.0 percent change.

In the four-county Sacramento region Hispanics accounted for 44.1 percent of the increase, with the Hispanic population growing 55.9 percent compared to an overall 19.6 percent change.

May 24, 2011
California prisoners: the stats

The U.S. Supreme Court's order to reduce the California prison population by 33,000 prompts the question: just who are the men and and women housed in these facilities?

For comprehensive inmate demographics, we can turn to the most recent California Prisoners & Parolees 2009, the annual "compendium of tables, graphs and charts detailing the inmate and parole populations supervised by the California Department of Corrections." The 132-page report contains dozens of tables broken out by age, gender, race, offense and other factors going back 20 years.

As of Dec. 31, 2009 the institutionalized population looked like this:

Total number: 168,830 (reflecting a state inmate rate of 436.4 per 100,000 population).

Gender: Male, 158,018 (93.6 percent); female 10,812 (6.4 percent).

Mean age: 37 (male and female).

Race/ethnic group: White, 43,226 (25.6 percent); Hispanic, 66,374 (39.3 percent); Black, 48,990 (29.0 percent); other, 10,240 (6.1 percent).

Offense: Crimes against persons, 93,674 (55.5 percent); property crimes, 32,677 (19.4 percent ); drug crimes, 28,736 (17.0 percent); other crimes 13,743, (8.1 percent).

May 17, 2011
Latest U.S. crime victimization stats

The Bureau of Justice Statistics recently released its annual compendium of data on the victims of crime. The 110 tables in Crime Victimization in the United States, 2008 cover virtually all angles of the subject: types of crimes -- violent, property, etc.; demographics of victims -- age, gender race, etc.; circumstances of crimes -- time, place, weapons used, etc.; reporting/non-reporting of crimes, police response time, etc.

It's a lot of numbers. Some bullet points:

* There were 21.3 million crime victimizations in 2008. 23.4 percent were personal crimes (assault, rape, robbery, etc.). 76.6 percent were property crimes (burglary, theft, car theft, etc.).

* Younger people are more likely to be victims of personal crime. The personal crime rate for children 12-15 is 43.6 per 1,000 people. Other age groups: 16-19 (37.4), 20-24 (38.4), 25-34 (23.8), 35-49 (17.4), 50-64 (11.1), 65 or older (3.5).

* African Americans are more likely to be victims of personal crime than other racial/ethnic groups. White only (18.6 per 1,000 people), Black only (26.6), other race only (15.5), Hispanic (17.1).

* Men (21.9) are more likely to be victims of personal crime, compare to women (17.8).

May 12, 2011
Fatal traffic accidents cost U.S. $41 billion a year

Nearly 31,000 people died in vehicle crashes in 2009. Aside from the incalculable human toll on families, traffic fatalities cost the nation about $41 billion a year in medical expenses and work loss. That estimate comes from a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control of 2005 data -- the latest available for this sort of cost analysis.

More than half of the national costs were incurred in ten states: California ($4.16 billion), Texas ($3.50 billion), Florida ($3.16 billion), Georgia ($1.55 billion), Pennsylvania ($1.52 billion), North Carolina ($1.50 billion), New York ($1.33 billion), Illinois ($1.32 billion), Ohio ($1.23 billion), and Tennessee ($1.15 billion).

California's total costs break down with $40 million for medical expenses and $4.12 billion for work losses. Slicing the total by age of victims: children ($280 million), teens ($606 million), young adults ($1.84 billion), adults ($1.34 billion), older adults ($93 million).

May 10, 2011
Divorced after 25 years of marriage: some stats

Today's announcement that former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver are separating after 25 years of marriage prompts the question: how many couples are still married on their silver anniversary?

The Census Bureau tracks the percentage of Americans still married at various milestones. The latest data available -- for couples wed between 1974 and 1979 -- shows that less than half of this group will still be married at the 25-year mark. Only 46.4 percent of women and 49.5 percent of men will still be in their first marriage. (The numbers are naturally less for second marriages: 36.7 and 42.0 percent, respectively.) Couples married in earlier years display more longevity in marriage.

The divorce rate varies a lot among the states. And surprisingly the divorce rate is generally lower in cosmopolitan coastal states than in many heartland states. Oklahoma leads the country with 16.5 divorces per 1,000 women over 15 (i.e., divorces in 2007 per 1,000 women). Kentucky (15.0), Idaho (14.5) and Arkansas (14.1) are next in line. North Dakota has the smallest rate of divorce, 6.0, followed by New York (7.1), Hawaii (7.7) and Pennsylvania (8.0). California does better than the national average, 9.9 compared to 10.5.

May 9, 2011
Food deserts in Sacramento

One aspect of Michelle Obama's fight against obesity is an initiative to eliminate so-called "food deserts" in urban and rural areas across the country. A food desert is a low income neighborhood whose residents have little access to healthy and affordable food. Specifically this is a census tract with a significant number of families living in poverty who -- because of distance and lack of transportation -- cannot easily get to a grocery store that sells fresh, nutritious food items. Often the only accessible outlets are fast food restaurants and convenience stores.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture unveiled its Food Desert Locator, an interactive map that allows you to zoom down to the census tract level. Areas in pink are considered areas with limited access to supermarkets or large grocery stores.

Sacfooddesert.JPGSource: USDA Economic Research Service.

May 6, 2011
Food allergies costing nation half billion a year

Around one to two percent of U.S. adults and four to six percent of U.S. children suffer from allergic reactions of milk, eggs, peanuts and other foods. The resulting visits to hospitals, emergency rooms and doctors' offices, plus lost productivity, cost the nation a lot of money -- an estimated $500 million a year, according to a new study.

CDC researchers, writing in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, say total medical costs associated with food allergies range from $225 to $307 million of which $45 million goes to emergency room visits. Non-medical costs, such as lost work days, are estimated at $115 to $203 million every year.

Another CDC study found that the number of children with food allergies increased 18 percent between 1997 and 2007. A helpful CDC brief on food allergies in young people lists symptoms and summarizes essential statistics.

May 4, 2011
Where do you stand in Pew's "political typology?"

The American electorate is increasingly "doctrinaire and ideological" in their political convictions, says a new study by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Although many voters have gravitated from the political center toward the partisan extremes, there is still a sizable percentage of independents.

To better understand current political attitudes among voters, Pew devised a typology that "sorts Americans into cohesive groups based on their values, political beliefs and party affiliation." These nine groupings range from Solid Liberals on the left to Staunch Conservatives on the right. Generally those on the extremes show considerable consistency in their views along with strong allegiance to the Democratic or Republican parties, as the case may be. But rather than being wish-washy in their beliefs, independents do have strong opinions about issues, but "they combine these views in ways that defy liberal or conservative orthodoxy."

According to Pew. "Mostly Republican" groups constitute 25 percent of US. voters. "Mostly Democratic" ones, 40 percent. And "Mostly Independent" 35 percent. In the full report, you can see how these types correlate to a large number of social, economic and demographic characteristics.

So where do you fit in Pew's political schema? Take this brief quiz to find out.

April 29, 2011
State releases newest population, housing estimates

Another indication of the recession's impact on the state: California's population grew just 0.8 percent to 37,510,766 between Jan. 2010 and Jan. 2011. Sacramento County increased 0.8 percent to 1,428,355 over the same period. Compare that percent change to the boom year 2000-2001 when the state and county grew 1.97 and 3.13 percent, respectively.

More factoids gleaned from statistics released today by the Demographics Research Unit of the state Department of Finance:

* Riverside continues to be the fastest growing county (1.7 percent), having taken the top spot from Placer (1.5 percent) two years ago.

* Lassen (-0.6), Amador (-0.3), Alpine (-0.2), Mariposa (-0.1), Plumas (-0.1) and Tuolumne (0.1) Counties all lost population between 2010 and 2011.

* Desert Hot Springs (Riverside County) is the fastest growing city in the state (5.9 percent). Twenty-seventh ranked Rocklin is the fastest growing town in the region (2.1 percent).

* Sacramento (469,566) moved ahead of Long Beach (463,894) to become the 6th largest city in the state as of Jan. 2011.

* California added only 44,649 housing units in 2010, compared to 197,477 new ones in the peak year of 2005. Sacramento County added 1,041, compared to 11,188 in 2005.

April 28, 2011
California sees big drop in accidental firearm deaths

Gun accidents killed fewer Californians during 2009 than in any other year in at least a decade, according to new data from the state Department of Public Health.

Firearm accidents caused 31 deaths during 2009, down from 36 in 2008. Such deaths have steadily fallen since peaking during 2005.

Californians under 24 are the most likely age group to die from the accidental discharge of firearms. Two children under 15 were killed during firearm accidents in 2009.

Homicides involving firearms also decreased from 2008 to 2009, reflecting the falling number of murders in the state.

But suicides involving firearms continued to increase. Almost 1,500 Californians killed themselves with guns during 2009, up about 175 from 2005. More Californians died from suicides involving firearms last year than died from homicides involving firearms.

April 27, 2011
Maternal mortality rising in California

Back in December this blog noted the steady increase in U.S. maternal mortality (pregnancy-related deaths) since dropping to its lowest point in 1986. Now the California Public Heath Department is reporting that the mortality rate in the state has almost doubled between 1999 and 2008 (8.0 to 14.0 deaths per 100,000 live births.

Maternal mortality is rare, but the rising rates are a warning sign of increasing health risk factors among women (obesity, hypertension, diabetes, etc.) and of problems with maternal health care.

The CDPH report found disparities in mortality related to race, income and education:

* The risk of maternal death was four times higher for African American women than for other groups in 2002-03 (46.1 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to 12.8 for Hispanic women, 12.4 for White women, and 9.3 for Asian women).

* Low-income women in the state died at a higher rate than others. Fifty-seven percent of maternal deaths involved Medi-Cal recipients, though this group constituted only 45 percent of all women giving birth.

* Although women with less than a high school diploma constituted 11 percent of women who gave birth in the state, 31 percent of all maternal deaths occurred within this group.

April 26, 2011
Hispanic voter clout lags population gains

Although the number of Hispanics in America increased from 35.3 to 50.5 million between 2000 and 2010, their participation in elections continues to lag behind. An analysis of Census data by the Pew Hispanic Center found that while Hispanics are 16.3 percent of the U.S. population, they account for only 10.1 percent of eligible voters and only 6.6 percent of the total casting ballots in 2010.

According to Pew, the relatively small proportion of eligible voters who are Hispanic is due to the larger number of children and non-citizens in that group. In addition, eligible Latino voters go to the polls at a lesser rate than other groups (a 31.2 percent voter turnout compared to 48.6 percent for whites and 44.0 percent for blacks).

California is home to 13.4 million Hispanics (37 percent of the state's population) and 5.4 million eligible voters (24 percent of the electorate). But again, due to the "youth bulge" and non-citizenship, only 40 percent of Hispanics are eligible to voter, as opposed to 79 percent of whites.

As the Hispanic population ages, it's expected that the influence of Latino voters will increase in both the state and national elections.

April 26, 2011
During last session, legislators missed 48,600 votes

One of the most basic responsibilities of a legislator is to cast votes on bills. But 48,600 times during the 2009-2010 session, legislators either abstained on or were not present for votes, according to a Bee review of data from the Legislative Counsel's Office. Roughly one of every 12 votes during the session were abstentions.

The Legislative Counsel doesn't distinguish between votes where legislators were absent or votes where legislators didn't state a preference. Some abstentions were clearly due to illness, such as many of the missed votes by Jenny Oropeza, who died in office after a long battle with illness. Other abstentions are due to lawmakers seeking higher office, like Fresno Republican Jeff Denham, who campaigned and won a seat in Congress while serving as a state senator. And other abstentions are just due to lawmakers "taking a pass" on a controversial measure.

Here are the 10 lawmakers who failed to vote the most during the last session.

There are a few legislators who aren't part of this trend, and who rarely miss a vote. Here are the five legislators that abstained the fewest times during the last session.

Update: To answer a question from a few different people: If a legislator served a partial term during the last session, only votes taken when they were in office are counted toward their tally of abstentions. For example, if they came into office on Oct. 1, 2010, they would not be deemed as abstaining on votes taken during or prior to Sept. 30, 2010. And, for those interested, here's a spreadsheet showing abstention tallies for all legislators.

April 25, 2011
One in 46 local households declared bankruptcy last year

About 54,000 households in the federal court district that includes the Sacramento region declared bankruptcy last year, up 20 percent from 2009.

The rate of bankruptcy filings in the eastern district of California is now about 50 percent higher than the national average.

Most filers asked for Chapter 7 protection, a liquidation which addresses unsecured debt like credit cards. About 10,000 filed for debt restructuring under Chapter 13, which is often done to try to save a home from foreclosure -- a gambit that usually fails in the long run.

Note: Bankruptcies decreased in 2006 because of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act.

Source: U.S. Federal Courts

April 22, 2011
Personal income falls in the region

Personal income (the aggregate amount of money individuals receive from all sources) fell 1.3 percent in the Sacramento region between 2008-09. In its latest data release, the Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates that personal income decreased from $86.9 to $85.7 million in the 4-county area. Given the economic hit Sacramento has suffered during the current recession, this drop is not so surprising.

After a steady climb since the early 90s, per capita income in the region (adjusted for inflation) fell for the past two years, 2007-09, from $41,924 to $40,306.

The BEA provides some very handy interactive tools for retrieving income data for states, counties and MSAs over the long term. They also allow you to break out the various sources of income, such as wages, unemployment compensation, welfare, etc. In a prior Public Eye blog posting, Phillip Reese used the BEA data to show the growth of Medicare/Medicaid payments in the Sacramento region.

April 22, 2011
Medicare, Medicaid payments skyrocket in Sacramento region

Congress is talking a lot about what to do with the federal government's two largest health insurance programs, Medicare and Medicaid. Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee Chair, is proposing massive changes to the programs, saying the country can no longer afford them.

In the Sacramento region, Medicare and Medicaid payments to individuals have more than doubled during the last 10 years, according to new personal income figures from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. The government paid six times as much to local individuals under Medicare and Medicaid during 2009 as it did to individuals on welfare (unemployment), the data show.

A few things are likely behind the trends. Medicare is the government's health insurance program for the elderly, and the elderly population is growing fast. Medicaid helps the poor, and there are more poor Sacramentans because of the recession. Also, health care costs of all types tend to jump sharply each year, creating a bigger bill for the government.

One note: Medicaid in California is known as Medi-Cal. The Medicaid figures above also include a few other smaller government health insurance programs.

April 21, 2011
Number of Sacramentans with jobs nears ten-year low

The Sacramento region has about as many jobs today as it did ten years ago -- despite the fact that the number of people wanting to work has grown by almost 100,000. The region's unemployment rate will remain above 10 percent until 2014, according to a new study from economists at the University of the Pacific.

April 20, 2011
California lags nation in "wireless" households

landline.JPGMore than a quarter (26.6 percent) of U.S. households use no landline telephones, relying solely on wireless (cell or mobile) phones. In addition, people in 15.9 percent of homes with landlines report that they use wireless phones for all or nearly all of their calls.

Those figures were compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics, which has been tracking telephone equipment preferences since 2007. Why does a federal health agency care what phone you use? Well it matters a lot to people who conduct health (and political) surveys, since up to recently these were directed only at people with wired phones, thereby missing a growing segment of the population. Consider that the percentage of wireless-only households has increased significantly in just four years, from 13.6 percent in Jan-June 2007 to 26.6 percent in Jan-June 2010.

Surprisingly, tech-savvy California in 2010 ranked low in terms of the proportion of U.S. adults living in wireless households. Arkansas was tops with 35.2 percent. Rhode Island was at the bottom with 12.8 percent. And the Golden State was 41st with 18.2 percent.

PHOTO CREDIT: Dorothy Hawkinson is one person who doesn't even have a cell phone. She holds her rotary dial, ivory with gold trim phone, she bought in 1981. 2009 Sacramento Bee photo by Paul Kitagaki.

April 20, 2011
UC Davis, CSUS student loan debt nearly doubles over decade

First-time, full time undergraduates at UC Davis and Sacramento State took out an average of about $5,000 in federal student loans during the 2008-09 school year, up 75 percent from the start of the decade, according to the latest federal data. Last school year, all students at the two schools took out roughly $242 million in federal loans. Because of the budget crisis, tuition at the two schools continues to increase rapidly, setting off protests.

April 19, 2011
During budget crisis, legislators, aides accepted $75,000 in gifts

The state budget was 100 days late last year. During that time, legislators, their staff and other state leaders accepted gifts from special interests that included free golf at Pebble Beach; Rihanna concert tickets; dinner at Morton's and seats at the baseball All-Star game. Gifts taken over this period worth more than $150 are shown below. Also, check out The Bee's database of all gifts given to state leaders.

About The Public Eye

Welcome to The Bee's newest blog: Public Eye. In the coming months, you will see us breaking news here as well as following up on investigations we have published with tidbits, news breaks and behind-the-scenes descriptions of our news-gathering process. Know of a wrong we could right? Send our fraud squad your tips at:

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