Campus: CSU Stanislaus -- August 30, 2002
Census Response, Air Quality Top Public Policy
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
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
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
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.