Rural justice by the numbers
We have two winners; Merced County sadly is the loser.
For the past two weeks, the OneJustice network has been trying to guess the number of poor people per attorney in Merced County for our December justice contest. We have two winners, whose guesses were so close that they basically tied. Congrats to David Lunbeck for his guess of 379 and Karen Irish for her guess of 349. Both were within 20 of the correct ratio!
The lowest ratio guessed? 10 to 1 (meaning 10 poor people to 1 attorney)
The highest ratio guessed? 175,000 to 1 (we’re so glad this isn’t the correct answer!)
The magic number? There are actually 363 poor people living in Merced County for every 1 attorney practicing there.
And this is the highest ratio in the entire state, all 58 counties.
363 poor people for every one attorney. (And no, that doesn’t actually show 363 people. Our hands got tired. Which also says something – 363 is a big number!)
For comparison purposes, San Francisco has 6 poor people to every attorney. (There are a lot of attorneys in San Francisco – over 17,000!)
San Mateo County has 12 to 1, and Santa Clara County 16 to 1. We’re not saying that is bad or good. But what we are saying is that Merced County – on its own – does not have enough attorneys to make pro bono a realistic solution to the overwhelming need for free legal assistance for its residents.
Merced also has one of the highest poverty density rates in the state. Of the over 255,000 people living in Merced County, 23% are living at or below the poverty. Only Tulare County has a higher poverty density rate.
And here’s the rub: Merced City (the county seat with population just over 80,000) is just 2 hours by car from San Jose and 2.5 hours from San Francisco. Los Banos (the county’s 2nd largest city with population of just over 37,000) is just 1 hour and 30 minutes from Palo Alto. It is totally possible to drive to Merced County and back in one day. So why aren’t we?
So we think that in 2014, the Bay Area needs to share some of its attorney resources with Merced County.
How’s that for a New Year’s resolution that would truly make a difference?
And YOU can be part of making that happen in 2014! Donate to the Justice Bus Fund online today and write “Get to Merced County” in the comments box with your donation – and we promise you that 100% of your donation will be used to get Bay Area volunteers into Merced County in 2014.