Looking at the Redwood Coast through the California Dream Index

1024 576 Patrick Atwater

The Northwest coast of California is world famous for its stunning natural environment, which includes lush redwood forests, remote beaches and awe-inspiring mountains. Beautiful but not easy to make a life in.

“The California Dream Index provides an invaluable tool in more accurately telling our story in the Redwood Coast,” said Kathy Moxon of Redwood Coast Rural Action. More than just an interactive tool with ten key indicators, the Dream Index resource portal spotlights reports that showcase important local nuance like the Humboldt Economic Index.

Encompassing Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte Counties, the Redwood Coast region is home to a combined population of more than 250,000 people. Using traditional measures, the region looked as if it was recovering from the Great Recession at a similar rate to the state as a whole. Unemployment reached regional low of just over 3%, the best in more than a decade.

In fact, as the California Dream Index shows, in 2015 the Redwood Coast lagged behind the rest of the state 22% in providing jobs with incomes above the cost of living. That measure includes a comprehensive look at a household budget including housing, transportation, healthcare, food and other expenses developed by the United Way of California.

Additionally, with a median household income of $48,905 — 35% percent lower than the statewide median of $75,235 — it is easy to jump to the conclusion that income is commensurate to a lower cost of living. Yet, healthcare premiums, gas and food prices as well as other expenses in the region are similar with the rest of the state, so those lower incomes are stretched thin.

Home ownership declined 2.6% from 2010 to 2019, only slightly better than the state as a whole. Affordable rent was a bit better as well. The number of Californians in the Redwood Coast paying less than 30% of their income on rent increased 2.5%.

It’s important to note that the Redwood Coast has an older housing stock and many properties are in need of maintenance. Moreover, many of the same statewide policies that make it expensive to build across California apply in the Redwood Coast though incomes there are lower than the rest of the state.

That local nuance driving the California-wide challenges of high home prices and unaffordable rent emphasizes the need for a regions-up approach in addressing the state’s housing crisis.

The Redwood Coast has made progress in efforts to invest in its future and create the conditions for more high-wage jobs. “Our region has taken proactive steps to develop innovative projects like a new fiber optic cable connection to Singapore and support sustainable farm fishing,” added Gregg Foster, executive director of the Redwood Region Economic Development Commission.


Patrick Atwater

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