A shrinking population. A declining birth rate. A drop in median household income. And a housing market that flipped upside-down.
These are just a few of the disturbing statistics that have characterized Merced County from 2006 to 2009, according to a recently released U.S. Census Bureau survey.
That the past several years have been rough ones for Merced County is no surprise. But the 2009 American Community Survey shows for the first time the recession's collective impact on the county. It also maps the demographic, economic and social roller coaster that's careened around the county since 2006.
The survey, issued annually by the U.S. Census Bureau since 2006, is an estimate of a series of economic, demographic and social statistics across the country.
The survey's results for Merced County in 2009 seem to indicate the Great Recession has taken a deep and wide toll on the county. While much of the data aren't in fact news -- the numbers have been reported and written about throughout the crisis -- the annual survey for the first time gives a broad view of the changes that have come to the county since the start of the recession.
Since 2006 the poverty rate has jumped to 25.6 percent from 21.5 percent. Per capita income has shriveled from an annual $17,703 to $16,888. And the median household income has also contracted. In 2006 it was $43,058. In 2009 it dropped to $39,535.
Along with economic decline came a precipitous drop in home values and the cost of rents.
Homes on the low end of the market -- $50,000 to $150,000 -- rose from a small portion of the housing stock in 2006 to almost 30 percent of the market last year. Conversely, high-end homes worth from $300,000 to $500,000 went from being a whopping 46 percent of the market in 2006 to just over 10 percent in 2009.
Those declines were mirrored by the decline in median rents as well. In 2006 they were $839; in 2009 they fell to $808.
Such economic barometers weren't the only indexes where the county saw shrinkage. The county's population actually shrank in the four years between 2006 and 2009. It went from 245,658 in 2006 to 245,321 in 2009. In 2006, Merced County saw 5,981 babies born. Only 3,714 were born in 2009 in Merced County.
Demographic shifts in the population also included a downward trend in the number of foreign-born residents -- from 26 percent to 24 percent. In 2006 there were roughly 64,960 foreign-born residents in the county. By last year, that number was about 58,979. Of the foreign-born, the largest number to leave were people who weren't naturalized citizens.
Language patterns also changed somewhat in Merced County over the same period.
The population of people who speak English only at home fell to about 47 percent in 2009 from 50 percent in 2006. At the same time the population of people who speak languages other than English at home rose to about 52 percent of the population from 49 percent. People who speak Spanish at home rose to 42 percent from 40 percent.
Reporter Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at (209) 385-2484 or firstname.lastname@example.org.