Sunday, March 11, 2001

Census tells more than how many

Figures will inform about who we are by race, age, education

The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — In Bowling Green, Mayor Sandy Jones eagerly awaits the first release of numbers by the U.S. Census Bureau.

        Did her city's population finally hit 50,000? “We have all our fingers crossed,” Ms. Jones said last week.

        So do the nation's other mayors and countless officials at every level of government.

        Who are we, and how many? The Census Bureau has already announced that Kentucky's population topped 4 million. We will learn more later this month with the release of statistical tables on city and county population, ethnicity, race and the population over and under age 18.

        More data will come later on such things as income and education levels, age groups, types of housing, employment, ancestry, migration patterns — even telephone service and indoor plumbing.

        What the numbers find will have implications on planning for health care, housing, schools and transit systems and figuring how much of a load a tax base can bear years down the road — even whether your town has sufficient people to attract a major retailer or restaurant chain.

        Bowling Green's goal — 50,000 — is a magic number for cities. With it comes designation as a metropolitan statistical area, or MSA.

        MSA status is a magnet for federal money. For Bowling Green, it is likely to mean a rush of federal dollars for public transportation. “The census not only gives us the population count. It gives us characteristics of the population,” Wesley Nakajima, a senior planner for the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, said in a telephone interview.

        Ron Crouch, who as director of the State Data Center at the University of Louisville is Kentucky's census guru, predicts that age and race data scheduled for release in the fall will be telling: big growth in the 75-and-older population — the segment that already consumes about half the Medicaid budget — and shrinking numbers of elementary school-age children, who one day will be paying the taxes that support Medicaid and Social Security.

        Moreover, the senior population is becoming more white while the child population is becoming more minority.

        Mr. Crouch also noted that the first baby boomers will turn 65 in 2011, beginning yet another boom — growth in what he calls the “young old” population, 65 and over.


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