Campus: CSU Stanislaus -- August 30, 2002

Census Response, Air Quality Top Public Policy Center Project

Stanislaus County achieved one of the highest response rates in California to Census 2000 and air quality is improving, according to a newly-completed set of indicators developed by the Center for Public Policy Studies at California State University, Stanislaus.

One indicator shows that the county’s census response rate of 74 percent of its residents returning their mailed form was above the statewide return rate of 70 percent.

Although air quality in the area remains poor, Stanislaus County’s air actually has shown fairly consistent improvement since the late 1980s. For instance, in 1987 its air quality exceeded the state standard for ozone levels on 77 days; in 2000, it exceeded the standard only 16 days.

The data about the response rate to Census 2000 and ozone levels represent only two of 38 indicators about conditions in Stanislaus County that have been developed by the Center for Public Policy. The indicators project, called “Visioning Progress: A Changing Stanislaus County,” was produced by a team of researchers at the Center in response to a request from the Cities-County Visioning Steering Committee.

As the cities and the county move forward with implementing policies consistent with the visions of the Stanislaus County Visioning document, the Steering Committee felt it necessary to develop a set of indicators. These indicators are to be updated annually, providing essential information about whether the efforts of the cities and the county are making a difference in the quality of life in the area.

According to Dr. Steve Hughes, Director of the Center for Public Policy Studies and one of the project members, besides the response to Census 2000, two other indicators highlight the achievements of residents and public officials.

The percent of all births that are low birth weight babies has dropped from 6.6 percent in 1997 to 5.6 percent in 2000, putting Stanislaus County a full percentage point better than the statewide average. Low birth weight babies are more likely to suffer delays in their development and are at higher risk to have behavior and learning problems later in life. Reducing the incidence of low birth weight babies is, therefore, a significant public policy accomplishment.

Data from the California Office of the Controller shows that Stanislaus County spends more on recreation and cultural activities than most counties. For instance, in the 1998-99 fiscal year, Stanislaus County spent $8.41 per person on playgrounds, sports facilities, public entertainment and other recreation and cultural facilities compared to $7.83 per capita for the state and $4.49 in San Joaquin County.

Hughes believes that these indicators demonstrate that when efforts of made to mobilize and focus resources to accomplish important goals, the quality of life for everyone will improve.

The indicators, compiled by Hughes, CSU Stanislaus faculty member Dr. Susan MacDonald and faculty emeritus Dr. Ken Entin, also point to numerous challenges facing public officials. The teen birth rate, although it has improved, remains too high and at 13.7 percent is 3.3 percentage points higher than the state average. Teen-age mothers are more likely to drop out of school than women who delay childbearing and are likely to have fewer job skills. Babies born to teen-agers are more at risk for school failure, poverty, physical and mental illness.

Another area of significant concern is housing costs. Stanislaus County remains one of the most affordable areas in the state for housing. However, one important indicator of housing affordability, called the housing opportunity index, plummeted between 1998 and 2001. In 1998, a family with a median household income could afford to purchase almost 76 percent of all houses in the county. By 2001, that same family could only purchase 40 percent of all the houses. Since there is strong evidence that housing affordability is related to homelessness, it seems inevitable that homelessness will increase unless more affordable housing is built, the study noted.

The county’s relatively low college-going rate poses concerns about workforce quality and economic development, Hughes noted.

The 38 indicators are divided into eight areas corresponding to the categories of the Visioning document: land use, the environment, the economy, transportation, education, community, government and public safety.

The indicators will be available on several Web sites in the county including the Modesto Bee’s site at www.modbee.com and the Policy Center’s site at www.csustan.edu/cpps.

Note to editors: Researchers call this an indicators project, not a survey or report.


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