Clark County a place middle class families like to call home

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

 

Portrait

For more information on life in Clark County, visit www.columbian.com/portrait.

By The Numbers

Population

Total population: 425,363

Total households: 156,375

Family households: 109,283

Average family size: 3.16

Average household size: 2.67

Age

Median age: 36.7 years

Under-18 population: 25.4 percent

65-plus population: 11.5 percent

Economics

Median household income: $56,689

Median family income: $65,612

In poverty: 11.6 percent

Earn $100,000 or more: 20.8 percent

Unemployed: 12.7 percent

Uninsured: 12.4 percent

Education

No diploma: 9.1 percent

High school diploma: 26.5 percent

Some college, no degree: 29.3 percent

Associate’s degree: 9.8 percent

Bachelor’s degree: 16.5 percent

Graduate degree or higher: 8.7 percent

Race

White 85.4 percent

Latino 7.6 percent

Asian 4.1 percent

Black 2 percent

American Indian 0.9 percent

Native Pacific Islander 0.6 percentSource: U.S. Census Bureau

Despite chronic unemployment in the double digits since the recession, Clark County remains largely a center of middle class family life.

The majority of the county’s 425,363 residents live in “family households,” with children accounting for more than a quarter of residents, according to the 2010 Census. Most of them also fall in the middle-income range, are predominantly white and were born in the United States.

If statistics were a medium of art, they would depict a typical Clark County family as white with two parents, one to two children and a median income of $65,612. About 70 percent of the county’s 156,375 households are made up of families.

As a testament to the county’s family character, growth of the younger-than-18 population during the past 10 years has outpaced the rest of the metro area and the nation. Since 2000, the county’s population of children increased by 13.7 percent compared with average national growth of 2.6 percent.

“While I’m sure there are many contributing factors, I believe families choose to live in Clark County because of the quality of the schools, availability of resources for families and the state tax structure — no income tax,” said Jane Lanigan, assistant professor of human development at Washington State University Vancouver.

In addition to the county’s nine public school districts, the county offers many parks where children can play. A variety of services, including Children’s Home Society, are available to address child abuse and improve parenting.

In addition, some county professionals recently formed a nonprofit known as Support for Early Learning & Families to help direct focus to improving the overall environment and services for young children.

Nonetheless, the county’s population also is rapidly graying. About 11.5 percent of the county is age 65 or older. That number is projected to double by 2030.

The trend prompted county government last year to create the county Aging Readiness Task Force, made up of 25 community members and local experts on aging and planning. The task force made recommendations in fall 2011 that would help gear up services for the elderly in coming years. The recommendations addressed transportation, housing and other services.

The county and community volunteers launched a website in 2011 to help connect seniors with local services for the elderly called MyEncoreYears.org.

Unemployment continues to plague the county’s middle class lifestyle. Joblessness persisted at 12.7 percent in late 2011, the third-highest of all counties in the state and higher than Portland’s 9 percent.

Economically, however, the county still offers a sturdy middle class income by some standards. The county’s median household income is $56,689 per year. Nearly 60 percent of all households earn more than $50,000 per year.

About a quarter of the county’s residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, buoyed in part by the presence of Clark College and Washington State University Vancouver, as well as jobs in Portland.

The county struggles with the same dilemma as Portland: lack of racial diversity.

A vast majority of county residents — about 85.4 percent — are white, and nearly 90 percent were born in the United States. The second largest group is Latino at 7.6 percent.

Lack of jobs may stymie racial diversity in the community, but immigrants also tend to congregate with their ethnic group, said Laurie Mercier, history professor at WSU Vancouver.

The county has become a visible enclave of Eastern European immigrants. About 2.9 percent of county residents were born in Eastern Europe, according to the Census Bureau. About 9.4 percent of residents who reported a specific ancestry indicated they had Eastern European heritage.

“Clark County is not that different from many suburbs in the United States in terms of lacking racial and ethnic diversity,” Mercier said. “There has to be an economic draw to bring people to an area.”

Still, community leaders are encouraged by slow growth in foreign-born residents who bring new contours to the county’s cultural landscape and exposure to the outside world.

“The county is still very white, but there is an influx of people from all over the world,” said Susan Tissot, executive director of Clark County Historical Society.

About 10.3 percent, or 43,387, of county residents were born outside the country. The largest groups were 38.9 percent from Europe, 31.9 percent from Asia and 20.8 percent from Latin America.