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Coastal Californians Driving Central Valley Growth

Low-Skilled, High-Skilled Migrants Moving to Different Parts of Valley

SAN FRANCISCO, California, November 16, 2004 — It’s well known that people are moving to the Central Valley in droves — but where are they coming from? Although foreign immigration plays a big role, domestic migration from other parts of California — particularly coastal areas — accounts for most of the growth, according to a study released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

With a population that has more than doubled since 1970, the Central Valley is one of the fastest growing regions in the state. Over half of that growth (58%) is directly due to migration, and most of the migration (60%) comes from coastal California. Between 1995 and 2000, about 145,000 foreign immigrants moved to the Valley; during the same time, nearly 156,000 Californians moved to the Central Valley, and that number accelerated to nearly 200,000 between 2000 and 2003. “The size of this migration has made the Central Valley the state’s newest setting for large-scale urban growth,” says PPIC research fellow Hans Johnson, who with PPIC research associate Joe Hayes co-authored the report, The Central Valley at a Crossroads: Migration and Its Implications.

Migration into, within, and out of the Valley has affected its regions in very different, and sometimes challenging, ways. Perhaps the most extreme contrast is between the South San Joaquin Valley and Sacramento Metro areas. Between 1995 and 2000, South San Joaquin gained less-educated migrants (a net gain of 13,000 adults without a high school diploma) and lost college graduates (a net loss of 3,000). During the same time, Sacramento Metro gained twice as many college graduates (a net increase of 22,000) as it did migrants without a high school diploma (a net increase of 11,000).

“Migration patterns largely reflect economic conditions in these areas,” says Johnson. “Most jobs in South San Joaquin’s economy are low-paying, so the area is attracting mainly low-skilled immigrant workers. With one of the strongest regional economies in the state, Sacramento Metro is attracting highly skilled domestic and international migrants.”

The Central Valley’s two other major regions are also experiencing distinct migration patterns — and consequences. A rural area with high unemployment, the Upper Sacramento Valley region has not retained its college graduates but has become a magnet for older retirees. The North San Joaquin Valley region is attracting huge numbers of new residents, largely due to affordable housing, but many commute to work in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“The Valley’s regions differ considerably, and migration patterns are changing them even more,” says Johnson. “Rather than treating the Valley as a whole, future policies for dealing with growth should be based on each region’s circumstances.” According to the analysis, the Upper Sacramento Valley has to address an aging population and stagnant economy, North San Joaquin needs local economic development and faces growing infrastructure demands, Sacramento Metro is coping with growth management and quality of life issues, and South San Joaquin is confronting high poverty, low levels of education, and increasing strain on local social services.

This PPIC study was made possible in part by funding from The James Irvine Foundation.

The Public Policy Institute of California is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett.

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