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February 13, 2014

Migration trends show Santa Clara County residents flocking to Stanislaus and Merced counties

New Census Bureau data on population migration trends show Santa Clara County is a major source for population growth in Stanislaus and Merced.

Silicon Valley is flush with jobs and has a reputation for being trendy and affluent. But a steady stream of its residents flee that high-tech valley every year and head over the hills to the San Joaquin Valley – particularly to Stanislaus and Merced counties.

New Census Bureau data on population migration trends show Santa Clara County is a major source for population growth in Stanislaus and Merced.

Far more Santa Clara County folks move this way than people from here move over there. The net gain was nearly 2,500 people per year for Stanislaus and Merced from 2007 through 2011.

Sarah and Scotty Shorsher were among them, leaving their San Jose hometown for Modesto three years ago. Initially, their Bay Area family couldn’t understand that decision.

“We were given so much negative feedback when my husband and I announced our plan to move,” Sarah Shorsher recalled.

But once her family saw the size of the home they were renting in Modesto for $1,200, compared with $2,700 they had been spending in San Jose, Sarah said opinions changed.

“They’ve all ended up following us here – my parents, my grandmother, my cousin Douglas and his girlfriend, Sarah, and lastly my aunt Rita, uncle Dale and cousin Kari,” Shorsher said.

Some of them bought homes. Some rent. Some commute back to San Jose jobs. Some found employment here.

Shorsher said she loves the slower pace of life, the centralized location and the relative lack of traffic in Modesto.

“In San Jose, there are so many people, I never saw anyone I knew,” said Shorsher, noting how she now enjoys bumping into friends while shopping in town. “I feel like our family has an opportunity here to have the future we always wanted.”

Census figures show Stanislaus gains an average of 1,132 residents a year from Santa Clara, and Merced adds 1,347.

Migration from other counties is far lower. In Stanislaus, migrants from Alameda County run a distant second, contributing a net gain of 645 residents per year. For Merced, no other county is even close.

Many cite affordable housing as their reason for moving here.

“I wanted a house with some property and a shop,” said Kyle Dreyer, who moved to Modesto last year. “I commute on the (Altamont Corridor Express) train to Livermore. I’m happy to be out of crowded San Jose and in a place where I can enjoy the farm scenery.”

Leana Guzman moved with her parents and brother from San Jose to Modesto in 2008.

“It’s cheaper out here,” Guzman explained. “Now I have my own spot. The freeways ain’t crazy, either, like Highway 101 or Interstate 880.”

Jackie Simental Covarrubias said she, too, moved to Modesto from Santa Clara because of housing costs.

“(We were) sharing a two-bedroom apartment with my mother-in-law, and our family was growing. … With another baby on the way, it would have been five of us in one room,” she said. Now her family rents a three-bedroom home and has “all the extra space we need. My husband commutes to work in the Bay Area, but it’s all worth it because we love it here.”

The migration stats – gathered from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data – provide details about the education attainment levels of people moving between counties.

Those moving in from Santa Clara represent a broad mix of people with widely varying education levels, from high school dropouts to those with graduate-level degrees.

That’s the good news.

The bad news for Stanislaus is that, overall, those moving out of the county had higher education levels than those who moved in. On average, every year, 557 more people with at least some college education moved out than moved in from other counties.

There also were more than 2,600 people who moved to Stanislaus from abroad each year from 2007 to 2011. The census data show those immigrants were nearly three times more likely to have not graduated from high school than they were to have earned a college degree.

The shift of college-educated people out of Stanislaus did not surprise Gökçe Soydemir, a business economics professor at California State University, Stanislaus. He noted that Stanislaus was in a deep recession during those years.

“Opportunities here are limited, so they go outside the county, where there’s more opportunity,” Soydemir said. “If you’re skilled (like engineers, nurses and mechanics), you’re more likely to be able to find jobs outside the area. So you relocate.”

Sacramento County, by far, attracted more Stanislaus residents than any other place in the country (793 per year net gain). Fresno County got the second most, with a 394 net annual gain.

Unfortunately, Soydemir said, three-quarters of Stanislaus’ labor force is unskilled, and there are not enough jobs for them. That is why the county’s unemployment rate remains above 12 percent.

Soydemir said low-skilled people tend to move here because “the cost of living is a lot less in the Valley. … Then if they can’t find a job here, they go to Texas because it’s even cheaper. Texas has jobs, but they pay low.”

Cameron County, on the southernmost tip of Texas near Mexico, was one of the most popular destinations for Stanislaus residents who moved out.

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