Census Report on Living Standards Shows America Before Attacks

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Nearly everyone who lives in Las Vegas used to call someplace else home. Northeasterners are more settled, although more suburbanites live in bigger houses farther from the job.

The Census Bureau's latest statistical snapshot looks at American standards of living at the turn of the century. Still, the information is a year old, and a lot has changed with the economic downturn and the Sept. 11 attacks.

For instance, people in the technology-rich Silicon Valley in California were among the best-educated and well-paid in 2000; the area's economy has taken a hit this past year.

Three of New York City's five boroughs had some of the highest poverty rates in the country last year; it is uncertain how the economic fallout from the terrorist attacks will affect families there over the long term.

"We've seen the best of times and we've also seen the worse," said University of Michigan demographer William Frey. "But we will come back, and when we come back it will be in these same places."

The bureau says the estimates from the wide-ranging Census 2000 Supplementary Survey are a preview of data still to come from the official head count.

Among the highlights:

--San Jose, Calif., topped the nation with a median household income of $72,268, with San Francisco second at $57,259. Santa Clara and San Mateo counties in California were among the top 10 counties.

Longtime San Jose resident Pat Capper was not surprised that her city's median home values were also the nation's highest, at $430,612. The costs have made the recent economic slide especially painful to many families, Capper said.

"Most people now can't afford to live here. They're moving out. Most people staying are those who have retired from area jobs," said Capper. Her husband retired recently from an aerospace firm and they plan on staying put.

--Residents of New York City's suburbs are among the best paid but endure the longest commutes. For instance, residents of Nassau County on Long Island have a median household income of $70,806 and typically travel 35 minutes one way to get back and forth from work. The national average is 24 minutes.

When they leave work, Nassau County residents go to bigger homes. The median number of rooms for a house there is seven; nationally, it is 5.8.

Longer commutes typically occur in areas with good public transportation systems -- something booming metropolitan areas in the South must consider, said Robert Lang, a demographer with the Fannie Mae Foundation.

In Las Vegas, 85 percent of homes were occupied by people who moved in between 1990 and 2000; the figure was 78 percent in Raleigh. The national average was 65 percent.

--Only 2 percent of Las Vegas homes were occupied by residents who had lived there for more than 30 years. Cities and counties with the highest percentages of long-term residents were in the Northeast and Midwest -- areas of the country that did not grow or declined in population during the 1990s.

Only Mesa, Ariz., had a smaller proportion of longtime residents -- 1 percent arrived in 1969 or earlier. Phoenix, Santa Ana, Calif., and Colorado Springs, Colo., also had percentages of less than 5 percent.

Eighteen percent of Philadelphia homes, and 11 percent in Buffalo, N.Y., were occupied by people who had been there since at least 1969.

Buffalo ranked near the bottom for cities in median income ($27,167) and home value ($60,437), and also had one of the shortest commuting times (19 minutes).

"Those of us who are left have a lot more space and a lot more opportunities," said Bill Lindner, a Buffalo resident of 20 years.

--While technology firms and sprawling office parks brought new white-collar jobs to Raleigh, N.C., new jobs in the construction and service industries often attracted new immigrants across the South, demographers said. That has put more pressure on schools, for instance, to accommodate students grasping to learn English.

Longtime immigrant gateways such as New York and Los Angeles had the highest foreign-born populations. But in Raleigh, three of every four foreign-born residents entered the country between 1990 and 2000.

Among cities, Santa Ana, Calif., had the highest percentage of people 25 and older with less than a high school education (60 percent). It also had the highest percentage of residents 5 and older who spoke Spanish at home (74 percent).

More than a third of the residents of Hidalgo County, Texas, which borders Mexico, said they lived in poverty at some point in the 12 months before answering the survey. In the Bronx, 29 percent of residents lived in poverty. More than 1 in 4 Bronx residents was born abroad.

The first wave of the supplemental survey released in August covered only state-level data. Tuesday's report offers a broad range of social and economic information for most cities and counties with populations of 250,000 and higher.