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Census: County wealth, commuting up

Eileen JoyceAlan Downs (right) and Casey Jennings work on a house in the Morgan Ranch subdivision in Grass Valley Thursday.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

Nevada County residents made more money during the 1990s, kept moving here from other places, and spent more time on the road getting to work.

These are a few highlights of the U.S. Census data for California released this week.

A torrent of information flowed from the federal agency in charge of taking the nation’s head count, data from a long-form questionnaire provided to one in six households during the 2000 Census.



Numbers were issued on myriad topics – from income and divorce rates to what type of homes people lived in, the number of vehicles they owned and even the numbers of households that lacked telephones or indoor plumbing.

Some of the data provided hard numbers for trends that fall into the we-already-know-that category.




For example, census figures show that one quarter of Nevada County’s population moved here from other counties in California and other states from 1995 to 2000.

“We wanted a community that is more of a community, less of the Lonely Crowd Syndrome,” said Kirk Valentine, who sold his sailboat business and moved to Nevada City from Pinole in Contra Costa County with his wife, Genevieve, and young son.

Valentine, 67, said the move made in 2000 to find a place with a better quality of life and a better education for his 5 year-old son has exceeded his expectations.

When he held a housewarming party after moving to Nevada City, it seemed like the “whole town showed up,” said Valentine.

He recalls that few of his neighbors responded to a similar invitation for a housewarming party after he moved to a new cul-de-sac home in Pinole.

Not only are people friendlier, Valentine also feels he has more of a voice in Nevada City than in Pinole.

“You can be part of a community and stand up and be heard,” said Valentine.

Urban refugees continued to find Nevada County a more hospitable place to call home, drawn by the county’s frequently touted quality of life. Federal tax return data showed that most of the people who moved here in 1997 were from Placer, Sacramento, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

The migration continued a trend reported in the 1990 census, which showed that 35 percent of Nevada County’s population had moved here from outside the county from 1985 to 1990, most from within the state.

Nevada County isn’t the type of place people would move to directly from the East Coast or of outside California, pointed out Andrew Ruppenstein, research program specialist for the state Department of Finance’s Demographic Research Unit.

People from other states tend to move to big cities for career opportunities then trickle into small towns to escape the smog, traffic and congestion.

“Big cities are often places people like to move to for careers, but not places people like to live their whole lives,” said Ruppenstein.

While it took in more than its share of state residents, Nevada County did not see nearly as much immigration as elsewhere in California. Foreign-born residents comprised 26 percent of the state’s population in 2000, but only 4 percent of the county’s 92,000 residents.

Nevada County’s contractors built houses for the newcomers at a quicker pace than statewide – the county’s housing stock rose 19 percent versus 9 percent in California.

The median home value of $205,700 was up 33 percent. But it only rose 2 percent when adjusted for inflation, according to figures provided by the state Department of Finance.

The 1990s were apparently a good time economically for many Nevada County residents. Median family income went up 43 percent from $36,942 to $52,697.

Many people here have shed their bosses to work for themselves – 17 percent in 2000 in the county versus 9 percent in California – showing the county’s entrepreneurial bent, noted Betty Riley, president and chief executive officer of the Sierra Economic Development District.

But some of the numbers don’t look as rosy when viewed with inflation-adjusted glasses. And the good times didn’t make much of a dent in the number of families living in poverty.

Though the 1990s were good for wage earners in Nevada County, some of the increase reflected income from retirement accounts and investments, said Riley.

The median paycheck for men rose actually fell 2.6 percent from 1990 to 2000, according to inflation-adjusted census earnings figures provided by the state Department of Finance.

The glass ceiling did rise a little for Nevada County women. Their wages were up 2.3 percent when adjusted for inflation, but they still made less than men – a median wage of $27,173 in 2000 for women versus $40,742 for men, according to Census figures adjusted by the state Department of Finance.

And the economy did not help some of the county’s poorest residents rise from their difficult circumstances.

The number of county families in poverty stayed about the same, with 6 percent living in poverty in 2000.

Jan Bray, executive director of United Way of Nevada County, said the county has more working people in poverty.

They need affordable child care, affordable health care and other services, placing a demand on social services, said Bray.

And whether the pay check got fatter or not, getting to work required an average of four minutes more behind the wheel, stuck in traffic – probably not a contributor to quality of life. A United Way Community Assessment found people were concerned about traffic congestion and safety on the roads. The average Nevada County commute was 26 minutes, two minutes less than the state average.

The drive time increase is similar to elsewhere in California, where commuters took from two to four minutes more to get to work, said Ruppenstein.

1990 2000

Median family income: $36,942 $52,697

Moved from different county 35 % 25 %

or state in past five years:

Families living in poverty: 6 % 6 %

Median home value: $154,700 $205,700

Median mortgage payment: $931 $1,328

Minutes spent commuting: 22 26

College grads: 22 % 26 %


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