Outlook for China Lake operations, population, income, education

The third segment in the articles covering the 2021 Outlook Conference, as delivered in the keynote address by Mark Schniepp will include China Lake Operations, population, income and more.


With massive repair and reconstruction of facilities underway at the base, this activity alone represents a substantial engine of economic growth for the region, and for an extended period of time.

Currently 18 reconstruction projects are underway with design and/or building. And during the Spring and Summer months of 2021, eight additional military construction projects are expected to be awarded.

With a new President in office, the budget for DoD is uncertain, but a conservative scenario has it rising by approximately the rate of inflation.

Under that scenario, the economy of the greater Ridgecrest area would remain predictable and with steady growth.

Furthermore, additional outlays directly allocated for China Lake earthquake recovery will actually provide a meaningful boost to the economy for at least the next 3 to 5 years.

Congress usually revises presidential budget submissions substantially before passing them into law. Consequently, actual DoD numbers for the future will be revised between now and the end of the year.


Population Growth

The population of the Indian Wells Valley is growing rapidly. The City of Ridgecrest gained 286 residents between January 2020 and January 2021, while the Greater Ridgecrest Area gained 345 residents.

Population by Age Group

The population of the Indian Wells Valley is older than many areas of California, with a substantial share of residents above the age of 65. In January 2021, more than 17 percent of Ridgecrest area residents were 65 or over, compared with less than 15 percent statewide.

Ridgecrest has a population that is slightly older than the rest of Eastern Kern County, but much younger than the Eastern Sierra region. The Eastern Sierras have one of the oldest populations in California, with almost 25 percent of residents age 65 or older.

The Ridgecrest population has aged over time. During the last 21 years, the share of residents age 24 and under has continuously declined, while the share of residents age 65 and older has reached an all-time high.

The prime working age group, which is comprised of residents age 25 to 64, rose sharply from 2000 to 2010, but then fell below its previous level by 2021. As of the most recent estimate, approximately 47 percent of Ridgecrest residents were in the prime working age group.

Student enrollment is expanding in the Sierra Sands Unified School District. During the 2020 school year, a total of 5,185 students were enrolled. Total student headcounts have increased in each of the past 6 years.

Last year, enrollment of K-6 students was largely unchanged at 2,758 students. Enrollment in grades 7-12 increased by 74 students, rising to 2,427.

Enrollment at Cerro Coso also increased in the 2019-2020 school year, but is generally in a pattern of decline. There were 1,316 on-site students at the Indian Wells Valley campus during 2019-2020, which is down from the more than 1,600 students that enrolled in 2015-2016.

A shrinking number of community college students, who are primarily under the age of 25, is another reason for the declining share of young people in the Ridgecrest population.


Population by Race & Ethnicity

The Ridgecrest Area population is 74 percent White, 4 percent Black, 4 percent Asian, and 22 percent Hispanic (these figures sum to more than 100 percent because some Hispanic individuals are also classified as White, Black, or another racial group).

The rest of Eastern Kern County has a higher share of Black and Hispanic residents, but a lower share of White and Asian residents.

The Eastern Sierra region has a larger share of Hispanic residents than Ridgecrest, but fewer residents who are White, Black, or Asian.


Household Income

Ridgecrest is a more affluent area than the Eastern Sierras or the rest of Eastern Kern County.

Almost 29 percent of households in Ridgecrest earn more than $100,000, compared to just 24 percent of households in the Eastern Sierras and 22 percent of households across Eastern Kern County.

Only 41 percent of Ridgecrest households earn less than $50,000, while 30 percent of households earn between $50,000 and $100,000.


Educational Attainment

The Ridgecrest area has a higher proportion of residents with a 4-year college degree than either the Eastern Sierras or Eastern Kern County. This is largely due to the presence of the China Lake Naval Base, where scientists and engineers requiring higher levels of education represent a large percentage of federal civilian and contractor employment.

Ridgecrest also has a large number of individuals who have earned an Associate’s Degree or who have taken some college classes. This is partially due to the technician positions at China Lake, as well as the prominent share of health care jobs in the area.

Ridgecrest has a much lower proportion of residents who have not advanced beyond high school. In fact, there are more Ridgecrest residents with an Associate’s Degree or some college training than people who stopped at high school, which is very uncommon across California.

Story First Published: 2021-03-19