The Public Eye

Reports from the Bee's investigative team

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.

April 18, 2011
Immigrant population in California growing sharply

The percentage of foreign born people in California grew from nine percent in 1970 to 27 percent in 2009, according to a new analysis of Census data by the Public Policy Institute of California. In raw numbers that's an increase of 1.8 million to almost 10 million. Currently, 46 percent of immigrants are citizens.

Crunching figures from the 2009 American Community Survey, PPIC researchers also found that California's share of the foreign born was the highest in the country. Most California immigrants come from Latin America (55 percent) and Asia (35 percent). Mexico leads the originating countries with 4.3 million, followed by the Philippines (783,000), and China (681,000).

About one quarter of all U.S. immigrants live in California. Although California still leads the states as the first destination for new immigrants, that percent has dropped from 31 percent (1985-90) to 17 percent (2008-09).

Last year the PPIC estimated that California is home to roughly 2.6 million undocumented people.

April 7, 2011
Antimicrobial resistance is a growing health threat

Antibiotics and other medicines that fight bacterial, viral and fungal infections have saved a lot of lives since their introduction in the 1940s. But some bugs are becoming resistant to antimicrobial drugs making them increasingly ineffective. The threat is serious enough that international health officials made antimicrobial resistance the focus of the recent World Health Day.

According to the World Health Organization, some 440,000 cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis occur every year, killing at least 150,000 globally. Further, resistance to older generation antimalarial medicines in growing in countries battling the disease. And a high percentage of hospital-acquired infections are now caused by resistant bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). (More than 12,000 Californians die from hospital-borne infections annually.)

The Centers for Disease Control warns that overuse and inappropriate use of antimicrobials contributes to germ resistance, leading to undue medical complications and deaths. Patients can protect themselves by:

* Talking with your doctor about the best treatment for you or your child's illness.
* Not demanding antibiotics or other medications when a doctor says they are not needed.
* Not taking medications prescribed for someone else.
* Taking medications as directed.
* Not skipping doses of prescribed medicines.
* Not saving medicines for a future illness.

April 4, 2011
"Do Not Track Me" laws seek to protect consumer privacy online

Privacy advocates are backing legislation that requires Internet companies doing business in California to provide consumers with a mechanism to prevent their online activities and information from being monitored. SB 671, the so-called "Do Not Track Me" law, would allow people to opt out of the "collection, use, and storage" of personal data by any firm.

Consumer Watchdog, a backer of the bill, has challenged Google to support such privacy protection. Google recently agreed to a comprehensive privacy plan and independent auditing as part of a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over the company's mishandling of its Buzz social network.

The California legislation is modeled on the federal Do Not track Me Online Act sponsored by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.). That bill would "direct the Federal Trade Commission to prescribe regulations regarding the collection and use of information obtained by tracking the Internet activity of an individual." In introducing the law, Speier cited the recent Wall Street Journal investigation which exposed the extent to which companies track, aggregate and sell consumer data.

April 1, 2011
Workplace violence is declining

Good news for those of us who toil in cubicles: the number of violent incidents in workplaces has decreased in the past decade.

In a new publication Workplace Violence, 1993-2009, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that nonfatal violent crimes against employees (rape, robbery and assault) fell from 2.1 million in 1993 to 572,000 in 2009. The number of homicides dropped from 1,068 to 591 over that same period.

In terms of occupation, law enforcement personnel, security guards and bartenders suffered the highest rates of nonfatal workplace violence between 2005 and 2009. Preschool, elementary school and college teachers enjoyed the lowest rates.

The majority of offenders in workplace homicides are robbers and other assailants (70.3 percent), followed by work associates (21.4 percent), relatives (4.0 percent) and other personal acquaintances (2.3 percent).

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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