Los Altos Ranks Among The Highest In The Nation

American Community Survey

Los Altos made national news in December when the U.S. Census Bureau released data indicating that the city’s median family income ranked among the highest in the nation.

The new census information, part of the American Community Survey, reported that Los Altos at $158,745 was among only nine midsized towns in the country to have a median income exceeding $150,000. The other affluent towns were in Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Texas and Virginia.

The census survey provides the first in-depth picture of Los Altos since the 2000 census and shows that the city’s basic character – a suburban bedroom community for Silicon Valley professionals – remains unchanged.

California had the lion’s share of cities reporting median home values of more than $1 million, including Los Altos, Palo Alto and Menlo Park. The Los Altos numbers were higher than Santa Clara County as a whole, which reported a median home value of $725,800 and a median income of $96,884.

Some of the new information showed significant change – the city’s Asian population, for instance, has grown from approximately 15 percent in 2000 to 21 percent in 2007.

Other shifts have been more subtle. Although the school-age population has grown, Los Altos’ average age increased over the last eight years.

In 2000, Los Altos tallied 27,693 residents with a median age of 44.2. By 2007, the median age was 45.2 and the population increased to approximately 29,000.

Los Altos continues to show a stark juxtaposition between young families – about a quarter of Los Altos residents are under 18 – and a senior population higher than that of any neighboring community. Approximately 18 percent of Los Altos residents are older than 65, and more than 3,000 households rely at least in part on Social Security income and receive a median amount of $19,933, more than $4,000 higher than the county average.

Approximately 23 percent of the Los Altos population is foreign born. A quarter of the population speaks a language other than English at home, with approximately 6,000 residents fairly evenly divided between speaking either an Indo-European language such as Hindi or an Asian language.

Los Altos has more school-age children than it did eight years ago, with approximately 7,800 Los Altos residents over 3 enrolled in schools, up from 7,012 in the last census. That figure includes 1,200 residents who study outside the city at colleges or professional schools.

The affluence reflected in the city’s median income originates at least in part in the specialized nature of the Los Altos work force. The majority of residents are privately employed in management or professional occupations, and more than 80 percent of those older than 25 had earned at least a bachelor’s degree. More had attained a graduate or professional degree (41 percent of that total) than those who had stopped at a bachelor’s degree (39 percent).

The census data provides a portrait of the community with details local groups could cite to spur social change. Los Altos’ commute statistics reveal a large crowd ripe for further low-carbon lobbying from the city’s environmental commission and citizen activists. The average resident has a 21-minute commute and drives to work – more than 80 percent reported they commute alone, although 307 residents reported they carpool and another 175 walk or take public transportation.

Note: This is a slightly edited version of a recent article, written by Eliza Ridgeway for the Los Altos Town Crier.

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