A demographic portrait of who lives in small towns and rural communities now can be drawn, thanks to thousands of statistics recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Population characteristics for every Northern San Joaquin Valley hamlet including several obscure places are provided by the American Community Survey. Combined data from five years' worth of surveys, 2007 through 2011, enable the curious to compare and contrast facts about who lives where.
Incomes, poverty rates, education levels, housing costs, military experience, language proficiency and citizenship status are but a few of the myriad topics covered.
The Census Bureau used to collect this type of information only once a decade, as part of the old census "long form." Now, only short forms are used for the decennial count because detailed demographic data is collected constantly.
All the statistics are available free on the Census Bureau website, but it's tricky to use. So The Bee has compiled a searchable online database for each community in our six-county region. There are statistics posted on many of the most interesting topics.
That includes income statistics. There's a wide income disparity from one side of Modesto to the other.
Example: The census data reveals that the typical Salida family has an annual income twice as high as the typical Empire family ($73,179 compared to $35,718).
The typical Del Rio family earns nearly as much per year ($196,200) as the combined income of 11 families living in the airport neighborhood south of Modesto. The poverty rate for airport area residents is 16 times higher than it is for those living near the Del Rio County Club north of Modesto.
Of Stanislaus County's nine incorporated cities, Oakdale has the lowest poverty rate (13.5 percent) and the highest family incomes ($66,505). But those who reside just outside Oakdale's city limit like on the estate-size lots and small ranches that ring the town earn nearly twice that much and have poverty rate below 1 percent.
The demographic data also documents the region's diversity, showing the stark differences from one community to another.
Small towns, big variances
In Crows Landing in the western part of Stanislaus County, an estimated 62 percent of residents were born in a foreign country. English is spoken in less than one-third of the homes there. Thirty miles east in Hickman, by contrast, fewer than 8 percent were born abroad and more than 90 percent speak English at home.
Military experience also varies dramatically. In Keyes, veterans make up fewer than 4 percent of the population. But among those living near Lake Don Pedro, which includes many retirees in Stanislaus County's eastern foothills, more than 23 percent have served in the armed forces.
Some towns apparently produce more babies than others. The average family size (including parents) is just 2.7 people in Sonora, but it's nearly 4.4 people in Livingston.
Grandparents play a larger role in child care in some cities. In Manteca, which calls itself "The Family City," 47 percent of grandparents have at least some responsibility for taking care of their grandchildren. That's true for less than 28 percent of grandparents in Riverbank.
Fewer owners in homes
Since the housing market crash and foreclosure boom, which started in 2007, the percentage of owner-occupied homes has shrunk throughout the Northern San Joaquin Valley. Yet homeowners still outnumber renters in most communities.
That's certainly the case in Escalon, where owners live in 79 percent of the housing units. Things are different in the unincorporated neighborhoods of west Modesto, where only 52 percent of homes are owner-occupied.
Some housing units, of course, have no one living in them at all.
Nearly 15 percent of Los Banos houses and apartments were vacant when the Census Bureau was taking its survey. That wasn't the case in Ripon, where the estimated vacancy rate was below 1 percent.
Education levels also vary dramatically.
In the census-designated place called Parklawn, which is nestled near Highway 99 between Modesto and Ceres, more than half the adults dropped out of school before ninth grade. Compare that with Valley Home, on Stanislaus County's northern edge, where all but 2 percent made it to high school.
The Patterson Joint Unified School District teaches youngsters from both Diablo Grande and Westley, but adults in those two rural communities have attained very different levels of education. In the resortlike Diablo Grande, 93 percent of adults graduated from high school, but that's true for only 31 percent of those in the farmworker town of Westley.
Stanislaus' only university is in Turlock, so it's not surprising that more college graduates live there than elsewhere in the county.
Nearly 1 in 4 Turlock adults have earned a bachelor's degree. Just up the road in Ceres, however, fewer than 1 in 10 hold such a degree.
Education translates into earning power. Stanislaus adults with bachelor's degrees earned a median $51,807 last year, while the county's high school dropouts brought in only $19,163.
Additional poverty rate statistics broken down by school district can be found on this Census Bureau site: www.census.gov/did/www/saipe.
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2196.