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The valley's changing face: We're younger with bigger families, Census shows

Valley folks are different from typical U.S. residents.

We're younger, have bigger families and less education. We're more ethnically diverse, have more trouble speaking English and are less likely to be U.S. citizens. We earn less, pay more for housing and spend more time commuting to work.

Those are a few of the more than 1,200 statistics about us unveiled this week in the Census Bureau's 2006 American Community Survey. It provides detailed data about social, economic and housing characteristics for Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties, Modesto, Turlock, Merced and other U.S. cities with 65,000 people or more.

The numbers are designed to help decision-makers better respond to change, explained Census Bureau Director Louis Kincannon. Federal officials use the statistics to determine where to distribute more than $300 billion in funds annually.

"These data are vital for the planning, implementation and evaluation of policies ranging from building new schools and roads to establishing initiatives that drive economic development," Kincannon said.

Business leaders also use the demographic information, which the Census Bureau provides free online.

Because some of the statistics don't make the Northern San Joaquin Valley look too good, they pose problems for those trying to recruit businesses to the region, said Bill Bassitt, who heads the Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance.

The survey, for instance, shows that education levels in the valley lag far behind the rest of the nation. Bassitt said businesses closely monitor such education attainment statistics.

"You can't cover them up with a slick ad campaign," Bassitt said. "Companies are very savvy (about demographics) when they're making their relocation decisions."

That was apparent about four months ago when Target decided against building a massive center for its catalog operations in Patterson.

"They concluded there weren't enough people with high school diplomas in that area," lamented Bassitt, noting how that decision cost the region more than 500 full-time jobs. Target chose to build instead in Tucson, Ariz. Bassitt said the valley's relatively low graduation rates, as revealed by census statistics, provides "an impediment to us moving this county forward."

On the flip side, the new census stats can help businesses figure out how to better tap the region's changing customer base.

That's particularly true when it comes to the valley's rapidly growing Latino population.

"When you go to the mall or to grocery stores, what do you see? Hispanics. They're everywhere," said Carolina Bernal, executive director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Stanislaus County. "Our community is big, it's growing, it's young and it's family-oriented."

For businesses to be successful in the valley, Bernal said, they should learn how to attract Latinos.

Latinos make up 56.2 percent of Merced County's residents, and Stanislaus County is on the verge of losing its white major-ity. The 2006 census statistics put Stanislaus County's white population at 50.4 percent.

The American Community Survey is based on data collected in 2006 from about 3 million addresses nationwide, including about 2,439 Stanislaus County homes. Survey information also was gathered about people living in group quarters, such as nursing homes, college dorms, military barracks and prisons.

The statistics were released this week only for cities and counties with populations above 65,000 because the Census Bureau is confident survey results for those communities are statistically valid. But as is the case with all surveys, statistics are subject to sampling error.

Here are some facts from the 1,200 data sets in the 2006 American Community Survey:

WHO'S HAVING BABIES -- Birth rates in the Northern San Joaquin Valley are far higher than state and national averages, but that's not the case for all the women in the valley.

In Stanislaus County, for instance, women who dropped out of high school have birth rates nearly twice as high as those who earned doctorate or professional degrees.

Foreign-born women living in the valley have the highest birth rates. For every 1,000 immigrant women in Merced County, for instance, there were 129 babies born in 2006. The national average for births is 55 per 1,000 women of child-bearing age.

TRADITIONAL FAMILIES -- Stanislaus County has more households filled by married couples with children -- 25.7 percent -- than the nation as a whole, 21.6 percent.

STAY-AT-HOME MOMS -- Married mothers in Modesto are more likely to be homemakers than those elsewhere in the United States. Moms and dads work in 64.3 percent of homes nationwide, but that's only true for 52.8 percent of Modesto couples.

MEN WORK MORE -- The average Stanislaus County man worked 44.2 weeks in 2006, while women worked 40.8 weeks. That's 18 extra workdays for guys.

WOMEN MORE EDUCATED -- Stanislaus County women have more education than men, which isn't the case nationwide. Bachelor's degrees are held by 15.5 percent of women and 15.2 percent of men in Stanislaus, but throughout the nation 26.2 percent of women and 27.9 percent of men have them.

NEVER WENT TO HIGH SCHOOL -- An estimated 44,531 Stanislaus County adults have less than a ninth-grade education. That's 14.4 percent of the population. Nationwide, only 6.5 percent of adults dropped out of school so soon.

MARRIAGE RATE -- Fewer than 41 percent of Merced adults are married, compared with nearly 46 percent in Modesto and more than 50 percent in Turlock. The marriage percentage is 50.4 percent nationwide and 48.5 percent in California.

WHO'S UNEMPLOYED -- The more education a person has, the more likely he or she is to have a job. Stanislaus County's unemployment rate for adults without high school diplomas is 17.3 percent, but it is only 2 percent for those who have a bachelor's or advanced college degree.

OLDER WORKERS -- Nearly 25 percent of Modesto residents 65 to 74 years old were working or looking for work. That was the case nationwide for more than 23.2 percent of such sen-iors. In the past, older folks didn't work as often. In 2000, only 19.6 percent of them were in the work force.

COMMUTE TIMES -- San Joaquin County workers on average spend more than 29 minutes commuting to work each day. That's four minutes more than the typical U.S. resident. Four minutes to work, plus four minutes coming home, times five days a week and 52 weeks a year equals an extra 35 hours annually sitting in traffic.

HABLA ESPAÑOL? -- Nearly 31 percent of Stanislaus County residents speak Spanish at home, and about 9 percent speak other languages. But that doesn't mean they're bilingual. About 77,300 people -- 15 percent of Stanislaus' residents -- don't speak English very well. About 9 percent of the county's households are considered "linguistically isolated" because no one in those homes speaks English fluently.

ANCESTRAL HERITAGE -- Besides Mexico, the most common ancestry for Stanislaus County residents is: German, Irish, English and Portuguese, in that order.

DISABILITIES -- Disability rates in Stanislaus County are slightly higher than the national average, 16.3 percent vs. 15.1 percent.

4-TO-1 -- There are four times more widows than widowers in Stanislaus County.

YOUNGSTERS VS. OLDSTERS -- There are 6,400 people older than 85 in Stanislaus County, compared with 40,392 children younger than 5.

HOUSING EXPENSES -- About 45 percent of Stanislaus County homeowners spend more than one-third of their income on mortgage payments and other housing costs. Nationwide, less than 28 percent of homeowners spend such a high percentage for housing.

NO ONE'S HOME -- Eleven percent of the housing units -- homes and apartments -- are vacant in Merced County, compared with 6.3 percent in Stanislaus County and 5.8 percent in San Joaquin County.

CONSTRUCTION BOOM -- From 2000 through 2006, housing construction soared throughout the Northern San Joaquin Valley. The number of homes and apartments increased by 13.6 percent in Stanislaus County, 18.6 percent in Merced County and 18.1 percent in San Joaquin County. Turlock housing expanded by 21 percent, while Modesto grew 7.1 percent.

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at jsbranti@modbee.com or 578-2196.

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