Babies, immigrants boost Merced County population

tmiller@mercedsunstar.com jnsbranti@modbee.comDecember 18, 2013 

— Credit babies and immigrants for boosting Merced County’s total population this year, but significantly more residents moved out of the county than moved in from other parts of America, just-released population estimates from the state Department of Finance show.

Merced County’s population grew an estimated 1,964 during the year, pushing the total to 263,026. That was a 0.75 percent increase. It remains the 25th most populous county in the state.

“Merced, according to the latest estimates, is growing slower than the rest of the state,” said Hans Johnson, Senior and Bren Fellow demographer at the Public Policy Institute of California. “It’s been that way for a couple of years now.”

Nearly three times more babies were born in Merced as there were deaths in the county between July 1, 2012, and June 30, 2013. That was the primary reason the county’s population climbed.

About 580 immigrants moved in, which wasn’t enough to make up for the its 1,447 net loss to domestic migration.

Johnson said Merced County has a history of rapid growth, especially in the 1980s and 1990s, so less than 1 percent of growth is “a real departure” from trends in previous decades.

Statewide, more women of child-bearing age

A increase in women entering child-bearing age accounts for the high number of births statewide, Johnson said. According to Department of Finance numbers, the statewide birth rate has not changed significantly.

The population rise in Merced County has an affect on the unemployment rate, according to Jeffery Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific in Stockton.

With roughly 60,000 nonfarm jobs in Merced County, Michael said, the county is in about the same place as it was before the recession. He said the unemployment rate remains high because the area’s population and labor force continue to grow.

The numbers for each of the county’s six cities are expected early next year. The city of Merced remains the largest of the cohort.

Merced City Manager John Bramble was not surprised by the small increase in the county.

“That’s a pretty typical statistic for a period of time where there’s not lots of employers coming in,” Bramble said.

A sign of confidence?

The level of childbirth could be a sign of residents’ increased confidence in the area’s economy, he said.

Stanislaus’ population edged up by an estimated 4,129 people to 527,326. That’s 0.79 percent more than 2012, according to California Department of Finance estimates. Stanislaus remains California’s 16th most populous county.

More than twice as many babies were born in Stanislaus than there were people who died.

An estimated 1,426 foreign immigrants moved into Stanislaus during the year. That more than made up for the 1,191 residents lost to domestic migration.

The trend of more people moving out of Stanislaus than moving in from other parts of the United States started after the region’s housing market collapsed and the recession began about six years ago.

San Joaquin County added 5,846 people, increasing its population to 703,919. That was a 0.84 percent boost, but San Joaquin remained the state’s 15th most populous county.

There were more than twice as many births than deaths in San Joaquin during the year. An estimated 2,296 immigrants moved in, while 1,808 more current American residents migrated out than migrated in.

Tuolumne County’s population increased by an estimated 177 people, breaking a multiyear losing streak. But that was a 0.33 percent increase to 54,278. It’s the 43rd most populous of California’s 58 counties.

As has been the case for years, more people died in Tuolumne than were born. And only a couple of dozen foreigners are estimated to have immigrated to the county. But Tuolumne had 288 more people migrate from other parts of the country than move out.

California’s population climbed by 332,166 people to 38.2 million. That was a 0.88 percent increase, and the state remains the nation’s most populous.

Sun-Star staff writer Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or tmiller@mercedsunstar.com. Modesto Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at jnsbranti@modbee.com or (209) 578-2196.

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