Incomes in San Joaquin Valley trail rest of nation, latest stats show

Stanislaus County incomes keep falling further and further behind the national average. Americans earned nearly one-third more than Stanislaus residents on a per capita basis in 2007, income statistics released Thursday show.

The earnings gap wasn't always that wide.

In 1969, when the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis started gathering income data, the difference between Stanislaus and U.S. incomes was a mere $156 per year per person. That was about a 4.2 percent gap.

But the earning disparity has expanded steadily. Last year, Stanislaus residents each earned an estimated $9,483 less than their fellow countrymen. That difference makes Stanislaus one of the nation's poorest metropolitan regions.

Merced and San Joaquin counties are even worse off. Here are the per capita incomes for 2007:

* United States -- $38,632

* Stanislaus -- $29,149

* San Joaquin -- $28,743

* Merced -- $23,864

The economic bureau uses per capita figures for comparisons because that removes the effect of community growth rates, which vary by community. So each year, it takes all income earned by all people from all sources, then it divides the total by the estimated number of people.

The bureau publishes that data for each of the 363 metropolitan statistical areas in the United States. Comparing those results shows just how relatively poor the Northern San Joaquin Valley has become.

Of the 363 regions measured, Merced's per capita income ranked 357, San Joaquin ranked 309 and Stanislaus ranked 297.

The San Francisco-Alameda County metropolitan area, by contrast, had a per capita income of $61,337, which earned it the nation's No. 3 ranking.

Santa Clara County ranked No. 4 with a per capita income of $58,716.

High birthrates and relatively young populations are a primary reason the Northern San Joaquin Valley incomes rank so low per capita. The region has a much higher percentage of children than the rest of America, which means the percentage of wage earners is much lower.

Merced residents, for example, are among the youngest in the nation. Children compose about 32 percent of the county's population, and its median age is about 29.

San Franciscans, by contrast, are about a decade older. The median age there is more than 39, and fewer than 15 percent of San Francisco residents are children.

More detailed data about each county's 2007 income and poverty level will be released Aug. 26 by the U.S. Census Bureau, which gathers different statistics than the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.