Stockton’s population is growing, but are people really moving here?

With all of the turmoil in Stockton, many have predicted a mass exodus of residents. With uncertain finances and diminishing resources, who could blame them? Hometown hero Dallas Braden even threatened to move to Sacramento at one point.* However, recent reports show that our city is actually growing in population rather than declining, inching closer to the 300 thousand mark. California’s Department of Finance estimates that 296,344 people call Stockton home. The Census Bureau thinks that number is even higher, estimating that there were actually 297,984 Stocktonians in July of last summer, a 2.15% increase in population since 2010. Not bad for a bankrupt city, but is there a deeper story?

Stockton’s population is clearly rising by any measure, but as many readers have pointed out, that does not necessarily mean that people are not leaving the city. It may very well be the case that our population growth can be attributed to births, not people moving here. With this in mind, how can we tell if Stockton’s population growth is a sign of interest in the city, or just a mirage? Fortunately, there is data out there to answer this question, and the answer is generally positive for Stockton.

downtownstkTo understand what is powering Stockton’s population growth, we need to examine migration data tracked by the Census Bureau using the American Communities Survey (ACS) from 2006 to 2010. This data allows us to see whether or not more people are coming or going, and where people are coming from or moving to. Unfortunately, the ACS only goes down to the county level, so we cannot come to conclusions specific to Stockton itself. Also, since the data is aggregated over five years, we are not able to determine trends. But despite these issues, ACS data gives us our best snap shot of migration for our area.

After examining the data, we can safely conclude that more people moved to the Stockton metro area than left. From 2006 to 2010, San Joaquin County saw a net gain of 4,108 residents. Over 37 thousand people made the region their new home, compared to just under 33 thousand deciding to leave. These are not staggeringly positive migration numbers, and the number of people moving away may have increased since 2010. However, ACS’s data gives us the best indication of what is going on in Stockton, and the signs are fairly positive.

Here are the migration numbers for San Joaquin County, courtesy of the Census Bureau.

Blue means more people left Stockton for these counties, Orange means more people moved to Stockton from these counties. Interestingly, more people moved to Stockton from San Francisco and Los Angeles counties.

Here’s how the numbers pan out: In terms of out-of-state migration, more people left California from Stockton (8,175) than came to Stockton from out-of-state (6,333). But within California, more people moved to the region (26,715) than moved to another part of the state (24,785). In addition, just over four thousand people moved in from out of the country (the Census has a nifty mapping tool with all of this data as shown in the map above).

More informal information available shows similar results. Data obtained from United Moving Inc shows that last year, more people moved to the Stockton region than left (83 to 79), though this trend was reversed in 2011 (80 to 89). As you can see, this is a small sample size and cannot necessarily be generalized to the entire population. However, at the very least, there is not a mass exodus from the area, or if there is, these people aren’t using United Moving vans.

Stockton Data_Page_1Stockton Data_Page_2

While encouraging, these results must be taken in context. Remember county level data captures all residents in San Joaquin and we cannot assume that Stockton migration trends mirror those of the county. In fact, it may be the case that many are leaving Stockton in favor of nearby cities (there were over 88 thousand moves within San Joaquin County from 2006 to 2010).  However, the data suggests that people are mostly staying in the area, which is good news for Stockton. Despite the city’s calamities, the Stockton metro area is actually attracting more people than its losing.

* Sources have informed SCL that while Dallas Braden did not make good on his threat to move to Sacramento, he has since moved to Southern California, though his mother remains in Stockton.

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Categories: Community Commentary

Author:David A. Garcia

David A. Garcia created SCL in March of 2012. Garcia is a Stockton native with a background in urban policy and planning, holding a Bachelor's Degree from UCLA as well as a Master's Degree in Public Policy from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies. He currently serves as the Policy Director at the UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation. David was also COO at Ten Space, a real estate development firm focused exclusively on Downtown Stockton, and continues to advise on their projects. Prior to that, he worked three years as a researcher/analyst for a Congressional research agency in Washington, DC. The views expressed on this site are entirely of the author's


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