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CENTRAL COAST — A new report commissioned by Monterey Bay Economic Partnership (MBEP) and developed by the Institute for Social Transformation at UC Santa Cruz presents a range of indicators that can be used to develop strategies toward a more inclusive economy in the Monterey Bay region.

“Building an Inclusive Economy in the Monterey Bay Region: A Progress Report” is designed to help community and business leaders throughout Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties better understand the progress they are making toward a more inclusive economy and to help identify priority areas that need attention.

Traditional metrics of growth and inclusion, which focus on simple measures of economic output and income, are inadequate for a full understanding of the economy and economic inclusion. There is a growing movement toward developing a more complex and systems orientation to understanding the economy in a way that incorporates greater attention to ecological and social well-being.

At both a metropolitan and national scale, there is now strong evidence that more equitable regions and countries have better economic performance — stronger growth and more high-quality jobs, greater resilience in the face of economic downturns, and more able to take advantage of new innovations and respond productively to economic shocks or structural changes.

“This new report provides strong evidence of the progress being made toward an equitable regional economy,” said MBEP President and CEO Tahra Goraya. “It also serves as a roadmap for where we need to come together to develop effective economic strategies to improve social equity in our region.”

Across the five dimensions of inclusivity of the indicators, the most positive trends are in the area of sustainability. Air quality has improved, per capita Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions have declined, and the energy intensity (economic output per unit of electricity) has gotten better.

There remains significant room for improvement in all these areas, especially in reducing GHG emissions to meet key targets related to mitigating climate change, but the trends are in the right direction. It also is encouraging that the overall levels of income inequality seem to have remained largely steady over the past decade, despite income inequality increasing state-wide, and the overall levels of income inequality are less than the state average.

Overall, however, the indicators show major challenges across multiple dimensions of the economy. Key highlights in each category include the following: 


Overall, there are stark inequalities along racial lines in the region. This is true in income, wealth accumulation and educational attainment.

While the region has made substantial improvements in educational attainment over the past decade, major educational inequalities remain.


Though the ability to participate in the regional economy appears to be improving, participation remains disparate between racial groups and has been slow to produce benefits for many community members.

In terms of participating in economic development decision-making, rates of eligible voter turnout remain low in the region, with the exception of an expected surge during the last presidential election in 2020. Notably, Monterey County — the county with the most population in the region — has consistently shown the lowest eligible voter turnout rates for each election year.

In terms of economic participation, despite a rise in new business applications, self-employment income has not increased across most racial groups. Undocumented workers play a crucial role in the regional labor force and are more likely to be active members of the workforce than documented workers, but face much worse economic circumstances. 

And, although internet accessibility has slightly improved over time, access disparities still exist between racial groups.


The regional economy has shown inequitable growth across several areas. Both GDP per capita and labor productivity have increased over the last decade, representing strong development at the macro-level. However, employment in high value-added industries has flattened, highlighting the regional dependence on low-wage industries.

At the household and individual levels, the burdens of a booming housing market have been carried by low-income residents. Household food insecurity rates have remained steady, though more prevalent in Monterey County than elsewhere. 

There has been a reduction in the percentage of people earning below 200% of the federal poverty level, perhaps pointing to improvements in opportunities for low-income households.


On a very promising note, the regional economic growth has mitigated excessive damage to the environment. Electricity energy intensity and air quality have both improved over the last decade. 

In addition, GHG emissions per capita have continued to decrease, reducing emissions across all three counties by over 20% in just the last decade. However, the region needs to reduce GHG emissions even faster to achieve key targets related to mitigating climate change.


The regional economy remains more volatile than the state-level economy as a whole. Means of maintaining financial stability, such as health insurance coverage, have improved over time. However, social safety nets for those outside of the traditional labor force are not adequate. 

Counties have begun spending less on social security and welfare programs, and retirement savings have decreased amongst lower-income households. Regarding community stability, the violent crime rate has declined throughout the region. Yet, property crime remains high in key cities, especially Santa Cruz.

“Accurate data is important for grounding discussions about challenges and opportunities we face in the region,” said Chris Benner, faculty director of the Institute for Social Transformation. “We hope this report can help support conversations between a wide range of community, business and public sector leaders throughout the region in developing priority investments and strategies in the year ahead.”

The full report is available at

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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