Nevada County looks into mirror |

Nevada County looks into mirror

Enough about Michael Moore. Let’s talk about us for a moment, shall we?

I’ve always thought it important to know who we are. Only then can we start to work on who and what we want to become.

To that end, I ran across an interesting report called the Nevada County Economic and Social Indicator Review 2004. Prepared each year by the Sierra Economic Development District, the report is jam-packed with all kinds of charts and graphs that actually start to make sense when you stare at them long enough.

The report was delivered to me by Supervisor Peter Van Zant, who actually seems to enjoy charts and graphs. He took the time to explain a few of them to me, probably recognizing the dazed look on my face as I leafed through the 56 pages that are also available online at

I’ll let our newsroom really dissect the report down the road, but in a nutshell, Nevada County is becoming an affluent retirement community, which is good if you can afford to live in an affluent retirement community and bad if you can’t.

The first paragraph in the Executive Summary says, “Over the past five years, Nevada County per capita income has grown by 26 percent compared to a 16 percent growth for the State of California and 13.5 percent increase for Placer County.”

According to the report, the mean household income is expected to grow by a whopping 9.1 percent this year, from $81,191 in 2003 to $88,594. Also expected to rise is the amount of retail sales per household, increasing by 4.6 percent. Based on the number of households, reads the report, this equates to $831 million in potential retail sales for Nevada County this year.

The household income includes wages, dividends, interest, rent and something called “transfer payments,” such as Social Security, veterans, disability, unemployment and welfare benefits. And while wages per household are expected to grow by 6.6 percent this year, only 30 percent of household income in Nevada County comes from wages. By comparison, nearly 45 percent of Placer County’s household income comes from wages. More than 25 percent of the average household income in Nevada County comes from dividends, interest and rent. That’s 9 percent higher than Placer County.

The report also indicates that we’re a pretty smart bunch of citizens. More than 90 percent of us have completed high school and have attained some level of college. This compares to 76.3 percent statewide and 80 percent nationally. Nevada City residents are the most educated, with 35.7 percent having B.A. degrees or higher and 16 percent having attained graduate or professional level degrees.

I live in Penn Valley, where we might not be as smart as Nevada City, but we’re better looking and tougher. At least according to an unofficial study I ran across down at the Tack Room bar one day.

Among those of us who do work, 27.6 percent commute out of the county to do so. Most of that commuting is done from Lake of the Pines, where 60 percent of the work force commutes out of county. But when it comes to commutes, an average of 34 minutes doesn’t sound too bad compared with, say, Los Angeles, or even the Bay Area, where workers spend most of their adult lives in traffic.

In Nevada County, we have “commuter minutes,” not hours, as one local traffic expert pointed out to me.

Government is still Nevada County’s top employer, with 18.4 percent of the work force. That’s followed by retail at 14.2 percent and health care at 11.9 percent.

I suspect health care needs will only grow as we get older. Even rich, smart people get sick and old.

According to the study, 47 percent of us are over 45 years old. The largest age bracket is 45 to 64, at 29.3 percent. That’s according to the 2000 Census Bureau stats. The study also shows that overall school enrollment is declining as younger families leave the county.

As you have probably noticed, we’re a very “white” community, at 93.4 percent, versus 5.7 percent Hispanic (mostly in Truckee). That seriously contradicts the rest of the state, which has a population that is 46.7 percent white and 32.4 percent Hispanic.

On the housing front, there were 1,586 homes sold in 2003 at an average sale price of $354,102. Most of those homes were on the market an average of 131 days, or three weeks longer than in the boom year of 2000, when 1,723 homes were sold.

With the exception of drugs (mostly methamphetamines), crime is actually down in the county.

That could mean that crooks can no longer afford to live here or that they’ve simply gotten lazy. Violent crime was down 11 percent last year and larceny-theft was down 17 percent.

Nevada City citizens might be smarter than the rest of us, but for some reason, they seem to be angrier these days. There were nearly twice as many assaults (from seven to 12) last year in Nevada City, and thefts jumped from 18 in 2002 to 26 in 2003.

So there you have it. Overall, we seem to be richer, older and mellower (most of us, anyway) than ever. Unfortunately, we seem to be losing more and more young working families, whose dream of sharing this wonderful Nevada County lifestyle becomes less and less affordable.

And that’s something we can’t afford to have happen.


Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Grass Valley and Nevada County make The Union’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User


Graham Knaus: Closing the digital divide


The California State Association of Counties, the voice of California’s 58 counties, would like to thank Nevada County Supervisor Heidi Hall for her strong leadership in supporting broadband for all in the state budget.

See more