Data released yesterday by the U.S. Census Bureau show California leading the nation in at least two areas: linguistic diversity and housing costs. The state also ranks highly in longest commute times.
In California, 43.1 percent of residents age 5 and older spoke a language other than English at home in 2009 – the highest percentage of any state. Of those people, two out of three spoke Spanish. Nationwide, 20 percent spoke a foreign language at home, with 12.4 percent being Spanish.
Last year, the three priciest places to own a home in America were in California.
The most expensive housing was in Marin County. In this affluent Bay Area county of 250,750 people, homeowners with a mortgage paid a median $3,245 each month. The cost for homeowners was $3,219 in San Mateo County and $3,207 in San Francisco.
Overall, homeowners in Californian paid a median $2,317 a month – 54 percent more than the $1,505 median paid by Americans overall.
Marin County also had the most expensive rental costs. The median cost of a month's rent and utilities was $1,591 – a figure matched only by Arlington County, Va. California renters overall paid a median $1,115 a month. The rest of the country? They paid a median $842 a month.
These disparities are why experts say the federal government's one-size-fits-all poverty level is inadequate. The poverty guidelines are based on the cost of food alone and do not consider regional differences in cost of living, such as housing.
The federal government is currently developing a supplemental poverty measure that will account for more factors in the cost of living and regional differences. The measure will not replace the poverty guidelines.
Not in the poverty calculation: your commute time.
Commute times dropped slightly from 2008 to 2009, as did the hours worked each week.
Californians spent an average 26.6 minutes traveling to work each day in 2009. That's 24 seconds fewer each day than in 2008. Total hours worked fell by 6 percent in 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Nationwide, commutes last year averaged 25.1 minutes. Americans with the shortest commute – 14.1 minutes – lived in Grand Forks County, N.D.
Residents in seven states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., had longer commutes than Californians. Traveling to work from Charles County, Md., took an average of 43.2 minutes in 2009, making it the county with the longest commutes in the country.
Most commuters drove to work alone (73 percent in California compared to 76.1 percent in the country). Carpoolers accounted for 11.6 percent of California commuters and one out of 10 commuters nationwide.
Just over 5 percent of Californians took public transportation to work, but the rate was higher in Bay Area counties, such as San Francisco (31.8 percent) and Alameda County (11.8 percent).