Why is this Important?


Community cohesion, the “glue” holding together the members of a community, provides people with a sense of belonging and empowerment. Within a cohesive community, members are actively engaged in the well-being of the group, and they look out for and support one another. This sense of belonging not only strengthens communities, but it also offers health and emotional benefits to its members. Studies have found that social isolation is associated with increased morbidity and early mortality, and its health risks are on par with the risk from cigarette smoking.

While it is important for adults to feel a sense of belonging, it is crucial for children, who depend upon adults to provide them with a safe environment in which to grow and learn. Childhood trauma, including physical and sexual injury, neglect, or lack or supervision, can result in lifelong social impairment and affect academic performance. Since 1970, the percent of family households in the U.S. headed by single parents has tripled. Single-parent families are more likely to live in poverty and under stressful conditions; both put children at increased risk for poor academic achievement and behavioral and health-related problems.

When people feel safe, they are more likely to be active and engaged in their communities. High rates of crime can weaken the morale, resiliency, and civic engagement of residents and can lead to blight and disorder, thus attracting more crime and deterring economic development.


What is a Sustainable State?


In a sustainable state, adults and children feel social-emotional connections to their communities. Adults are active and engaged in the civic process, and voter participation rates are high. The poverty rate is low, and support services help those most in need. Crime rates are low, businesses and commerce thrive, and communities have safe neighborhoods, recreation areas, and schools. Instances of child abuse are rare, and all children grow up in nurturing and caring environments.


Key Findings

  • After three years of increases until 2012, the child abuse referral rate in the county fell to 24 referrals per 1,000 children, considerably lower than the state rate of 55.
  • The San Mateo County poverty rate for families with children increased by 23% between 2014 and 2015, and the poverty rate for single, female headed families increased by 16%.
  • In 2015, the poverty rate for San Mateo County was 8.5%, well below state (15.3%) and national (15.7%) rates.
  • In 2013, 19% of family households in San Mateo County with children under 18 years of age were headed by a single-parent, down from 24% in 2012. Of these single-parent households, 70% are headed by a female.
  • The county’s violent crime rate decreased in 2014 (209 per 100,000 population), and was well below California’s (395).
  • In 2014, the poverty rate for San Mateo County was 7.3%, the lowest in the nine-county Bay Area and well below state (16.4%) and national (15.5%) rates. The child poverty rate for the county is 6.4% but rises to 18% for children in single-parent households headed by a female.
  • The 2013 San Mateo County Homeless Census and Survey counted a total of 2,281 homeless, a 6% increase from 2011. Of these homeless, 57% were unsheltered (living in cars, homeless encampments, or on the streets).
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Healthy Families

Child Abuse Referral


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Poverty Rate 2005-2015

  • Despite an increase in the median household income, the poverty rate in San Mateo County increased by 16% in 2015.
  • The Santa Clara County poverty rate was 8.2%, and Marin’s poverty rate of 7.1% was the lowest in the nine-county Bay Area in 2015.

  • Between 2010 and 2014, San Mateo County had the lowest poverty rate in the nine-county Bay Area, with the exception of 2012 when Marin had the lowest poverty rate.

  • The San Mateo County poverty rate for families with children increased by 23% between 2014 and 2015, and the poverty rate for single, female headed families increased by 16%.
  • The child poverty rate is significantly higher for families with a single female householder in San Mateo County and California as a whole.
  • The Federal Poverty Level (FPL) is the annual income required to meet basic needs. Adjusted annually for inflation, the FPL does not account for local variations in the cost of living and therefore underestimates the number of people living in poverty in expensive areas like San Mateo County.

Alternative Measure for Poverty

The Self-Sufficiency Standard (SSS) calculates the income required to meet basic needs (without public or private assistance). Unlike the FPL, it accounts for local costs of living such as housing, childcare, healthcare, and transportation. In 2014, the SSS for a family of four in San Mateo County required an annual income of $85,090 to meet basic needs without public or private assistance, considerably higher than the FPL of $23,850. The SSS annual income for the county is equivalent to two adults earning an hourly wage of $20.14. According to the Insight Center for Economic Development, 55,242 households in the county (29% of total households) had incomes below the Self-Sufficiency Standard, while nearly 42% of county households with children had income below the SSS.


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Crime and Safety


  • Violent crime is characterized by use of force upon another person or the threat of force; it is measured separately from property crime. In 2014, the violent crime rate decreased by 12% compared to 2013 and 32% over the past 10 years.

Perceptions of Safety 5th Grade Students SMC.eps

  • More fifth graders (86%) feel safe at school most or all of the time compared to outside of school (74%).

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  • In 2015, San Mateo County’s unsheltered homeless population decreased by 524 people compared to 2013, a 40% reduction.
  • If this large decrease continues at the same rate, San Mateo County will reach about 200 unsheltered homeless by 2020, short of the county goal of zero unsheltered homeless by 2020.
  • San Mateo County’s sheltered homeless population remained consistent over the past 6 years.
  • Although San Mateo County’s unsheltered homeless population has decreased, a majority of the unsheltered homeless population is concentrated in a few cities”Pacifica, Half Moon Bay, East Palo Alto, and Redwood City.
  • Redwood City has 10.9% of the county’s total population and 28.8% of the county’s total unsheltered homeless population, the highest in the county.

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Voter Participation


  • Voter participation in non-presidential year elections declined between 2010 and 2014 at every level. This decline is typical for gubernatorial elections involving incumbents.


  • The percentage of registered voters (among the eligible population) is roughly consistent across all geographic levels, though both registered voters and turnout are higher in the 9-county Bay Area.

Vote by Mail Pilot Program

San Mateo County participated in a pilot program during the 2015 November elections, which automatically gave every voter the option to vote by mail. The pilot program, AB 2028, aimed to increase overall voter turnout, reduce error, and decrease election costs. The number of polling places were reduced for voters preferring to vote in person. In June 2014, over 77 percent of the ballots were cast by mail. The Elections Office estimates the county can save up to half the cost of a traditional election in an all mail election.

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Motor Voter

On March 16, 2015, Oregon created a new policy requiring the DMV to share information about potential voters to the Secretary of State, and automatically registering them to vote. New registered voters will have the option to opt out of voter registration as well. Oregon estimates this will generate 300,000 new registered voters for the state. California Secretary Alex Padilla believes a similar law in California can bring the same results, as seven million eligible voters in the state are not registered as of last year.

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Public Libraries

Nov2016Label Library Use and Internet Terminals San Mateo County, 2014-2015

  • The average number of visits per hour in the California State Library System increased to 77 in the 2014-2015 fiscal year, compared to 74 in the 2012-2013 fiscal year. With this shift, several public libraries in San Mateo County have fallen below the average visits per hour.
  • The average number of internet terminals per 1,000 residents has steadily increased over the last five years in the California state library system.
  • The number of internet terminals per 1,000 residents basically remained the same in San Mateo County between the 2012-2013 and 2014-2015 fiscal years.
  • For the past 15 years, the number of internet terminals tripled in San Mateo County’s library system.

Bridging the Digital Divide

A 2012 report from the American Library Association found that citizens are using technology in libraries in three ways: utilizing technology infrastructure (such as computer terminals), accessing libraries’ electronic content, and soliciting information staff for help. From 2011-2012, public computer and Wi-Fi use increased by 60%, but nearly two-thirds of libraries reported an insufficient number of computers to meet demand some or all of the time. 62% of libraries reported offering the only free Wi-Fi access in their community.

There are a few local solutions to this digital divide. San Mateo County residents can check out Wi-Fi hotspots and laptop/Wi-Fi hotspot combos for up to 7 days thanks to a state library grant and Mobile Beacon, a nonprofit. For more info, visit the county website. Additionally, the San Francisco chapter of Code for America’s brigade team created LocalFreeWeb, which allows citizens to text a Muni bus stop ID to a phone number, which will return a text message displaying nearby locations where that person can access internet enabled computers.

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