CENTRAL VALLEY — Just how far will people travel to get a job?
Commuting from Modesto to San Jose is bad enough, but just-released Census Bureau statistics show more than 400 Stanislaus County residents work in Los Angeles and Orange counties.
Nearly 22 percent of Stanislaus' workers about 44,000 of them commute out of the county for jobs. Their top destination is San Joaquin County, where 17,000 of them earn a living.
An additional 16,000 Stanislaus residents routinely trek west, over the hills and into the Bay Area for work.
That's not a fun drive. Just ask Trysha Hicks, who used to commute from Modesto to San Jose every day.
"It used to take me 2.5 hours to go 96 miles one direction," Hicks told The Bee through a post on Facebook. "Forget about getting home on Fridays in the winter, with all the Bay Area people leaving on their ski weekends."
The Census Bureau says the United States has nearly 600,000 such "megacommuters" those who travel more than 90 minutes and 50 miles each way to work. Only one in 122 workers makes such a commute.
Hicks said she loves living in the San Joaquin Valley, so she endured the costly and long commute even when she was nine months pregnant.
"Besides the price of gas, I had to get my oil changed every month" because commuting put 4,000 miles per month on her car, Hicks recalled. "Suffice it to say, I do not miss it."
Nationwide, 27.4 percent of workers commute to jobs in another county, according to the Census Bureau. That's a higher percentage than in Stanislaus, but California counties are significantly larger geographically than those in most parts of the country. Out-of-county commutes here cover more distance and require more time.
The average one-way daily commute for U.S. workers is 25.5 minutes; Stanislaus workers travel about a minute longer than that.
While most Stanislaus workers are employed relatively close to home, the region's road warriors push up the county's average.
Gus Velasquez of Modesto, for instance, commutes to Sunnyvale in Santa Clara County that's 78 miles each way.
Exodus to San Jose area
He's not alone: Nearly 4,000 Stanislaus residents plus 8,000 from San Joaquin County and 4,000 from Merced County work in Santa Clara County.
Amanda Lillak-Wallace is among them.
"I commute one to two times a week from Turlock to San Jose," Lillak-Wallace said. She considers herself lucky to have a job that allows her the flexibility to do some of her work from home. "(Commuting) is so tiring, and I don't know how people do it daily."
Valley workers say they sacrifice their time to get higher Bay Area wages.
"It was an $8 an hour raise for me to commute to Pleasanton (in Alameda County)," explained Mike Hillar of Modesto. "It sucks, but the pay is so much better."
More than 8,000 people from Stanislaus commute to Alameda for work, joining 26,000 San Joaquin residents on their way over the Altamont Pass.
Jennifer Tennyson James laments the family time her husband has missed while commuting daily from Patterson to Fremont.
"Late nights, two-plus hours sometimes driving home, stress of trying to rush home, missed practices and dance lessons, late dinners. Just to name a few," said Tennyson James, listing commuting's downside. "My father did it also as I was growing up. I always said I would never be in that position raising a child. But sometimes you have no choice."
Leslie Shaw Klinger said she moved to Modesto 15 years ago so she could afford to buy a house, and she's been commuting back to Contra Costa County ever since.
"I would love not to commute," Shaw Klinger said. But her job there pays more than she could earn in Stanislaus. "Even with the gas prices, it is still better for me to commute. I am counting the days until I can retire."
John Burke was fortunate to figure out an alternative.
"I used to commute to San Jose a couple days per week," Burke said. "Then I whittled it down to one day, and about five years ago, I became a 100 percent work-from-home employee. Wouldn't trade it for anything well, maybe for a house by the beach."
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2196.
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