March 8, 2011 | Modesto Bee | Original Article

Population gain mostly Hispanics; group makes up 42% in Stanislaus

The population grew 19 percent in the Northern San Joaquin Valley from 2000 to 2010 despite a sour economy in the latter part of the decade, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Tuesday.

The gains came mostly from Hispanics, who increased from 32 percent to 42 percent of Stanislaus County's population and gained in Merced and San Joaquin counties.

Non-Hispanic whites made up 47 percent of Stanislaus' population of 514,453 in 2010, the bureau reported. It was the first time this group slipped below majority status in the once-a-decade tally.

The figures are from a home-by-home count of the population as of April 1, 2010. They provide far less detail than the bureau's more frequent surveys of social and economic conditions, but they are important nonetheless. The results will be used to distribute certain federal funds and to redraw legislative districts.

The increased number of people brings challenges for schools and other public bodies, said Dejeuné Shelton, interim executive director of the Great Valley Center in Modesto.

"It pulls on the services we have available at a time when all of our services are being reduced because of budget cuts," she said.

But the numbers also show that the region attracts people despite its poor rankings on variousnational lists, Shelton said.

"If you look at the population, you can see that they are coming for a reason," she said.

Among the highlights for the north valley and adjacent mountain counties:

  • Modesto had 201,165 people in the 2010 census, up from 188,856 in 2000. The city's growth rate over the decade was just 6.5 percent, the lowest in the region.
  • Patterson had the largest percentage gain, rising 75.9 percent. Lathrop followed at 72.6 percent and Hughson at 66.8 percent.
  • Merced and San Joaquin counties had nearly identical gains of 21.5 and 21.6 percent, respectively.
  • Tuolumne was the slowest-growing county at 1.6 percent, a contrast to the strong growth in previous decades.

The 2010 figures show that the region's growth flattened somewhat compared with bureau estimates for 2006. Modesto lost about 4,000 people over those four years.

Earlier in the decade, the valley was in the middle of a housing boom and many Bay Area workers were buying homes here.

"The Central Valley was a fast-growing area prior to the recession," said John Malson, acting chief of the California Department of Finance demographics unit. "There was a lot of housing growth. The recession, you might say, put a stop to that."

California's population grew 10 percent over the decade to 37,253,956, a slower rate than in the past, the Census Bureau reported.

For the first time, the state failed to gain a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. It could have been worse.

"If it weren't for the Latinos and the Asians, California's influence in D.C. would have decreased," said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

Demographers say Hispanics are growing faster than other ethnic groups because many are of child-bearing age while the rest of the population tends to skew older.

California has benefited from immigration from Asia and Latin America, as well, even while local residents have left for other states in search of cheaper housing and jobs.

Hans Johnson, director of research at the Public Policy Institute of California, said the growing diversity in inland regions might eventually ease the political divide between a largely Democratic coastal region and more Republican inland California, since Hispanics are more likely to vote Democratic.

"The caveat here is that many La-tinos are immigrants and not naturalized citizens and, therefore, not eligible to vote," Johnson said. "That is why the voting patterns will lag the demographic changes, but they are coming."

Some demographers wondered whether people are more likely to report they are Hispanic now than a decade ago, which could account for some of the decline in non-Hispanic whites.

"Maybe some people who have one Hispanic parent weren't Hispanic 10 years ago and now they are," said John Pitkin, a demographer in Cambridge, Mass. "I am sure there will be a lot of studies in the coming year trying to figure that one out."