Well, here we are. 2017. All 324,310,011 of us ready to start another calendar turnover. That’s the most recent guess - er, pardon me - estimate of our nation’s headcount by the U.S. Census Bureau folk.
In the next 12 months, we’re expected to have one birth every eight seconds and one death every 11. Net migration to our shores is expected to be one new face every 33 seconds. Adding those three categories together means we’ll increase our population by one new person every 17 seconds.
Also worth noting, as we begin crossing off the days of 2017, the Bureau folk are putting world population at 7,362,350,168. Up about one percent from the start of 2016.
Pardon me for digging in the statistics bin again but it keeps me from thinking about the political Armageddon we’re facing about three weeks from now. Besides, it’s important, now and then, to take stock of how many of us there are, who we are and where we are.
The Census counters have come up with a rather surprising state in the “fastest growing” category. Utah. Yep, Beehive state residents increased their number a full two percent to 3.1 million in the last year. Coming in second was Nevada. Then Idaho, (1.8 percent), Florida and Washington (1.8 percent). All gainers.
And there was this. Rural areas cover about 97 percent of our land but contain only 19.3 percent of the total population. About 60 million people.
All this comes from the Bureau’s American Community Survey of our 3,142 counties conducted every five years. No one else has such a comprehensive data set so these numbers are important since many government and private agencies use them for all sorts of things. Many assistance programs determine eligibility factors right down to the smallest communities in all states. Companies make expansion plans using this solitary base. Construction, utility growth, highways, recreation development - these and more - all use this data bank.
The median income figure from large county to small was a real stretch. Highest in the so-called “rural” counties were in Connecticut ($93,382) and New Jersey ($92,972). You can guess where the smallest median incomes showed up - Mississippi ($40,200). Rural area poverty rates varied from a low in Connecticut (4.6 percent) to a high in New Mexico (21.9 percent).
A number of other interesting facts come from this source. For one, those of us who live in rural areas are more likely to own our own homes “free and clear” (44-percent) while, in the city, it’s closer to 33-percent). More of us still live in our state of birth. And more of us have been in the military than those from urban areas.
We also tend to be older with a median age of 51 whereas folks in the cities have a median age of about 45. Folks in smaller areas have lower poverty rates but more of our kids are uninsured. Probably some of that old rural “self-sufficiency” there. “We take care of our own.”
I learned a new word from the Bureau folks - “rurality.” Take that, Spell Check. Best I can tell, it means small counties with no major city. Like Moro in Oregon or Lewis in Idaho. Rurality. Keep that around for your next word game.
As we embark on this new year, a lot of us do so with a large sense of political dread - uncertain where we’re headed and what affects there will certainly be on our lives. We’re in a time of national flux in political, social and economic conditions. A record high percentage of us has little to no respect for government and private institutions that have been our bedrock since the nation’s founding. We’re distrustful, suspicious and anxious. All in all, we’re suffering national angst.
In such times, it can be comforting to linger over some statistics that show we’re still this big, lumbering democracy we’ve always been. Folks in our cities continue to operate in their own rushed environment, seeming to ignore those out in the “hinterlands” who march to a different cadence. Out in those “hinterlands,” the pace is slower, security seems easier to attain - and keep - lives seem to rest on the same bedrock our forebearers knew.
I’m as filled with angst as the next guy. But, knowing we’re still growing and that other peoples of the world still seek us out as a better place for them and their families than where they were, gives me hope we’ll survive the coming trials. All 324,310,011 of us.