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Americans, by the numbers

How many of us use a cell phone? How much meat do we eat? How often are we stuck in traffic? These factoids and countless others are in the new Statistical Abstract of the United States being released Thursday, a godsend to researchers and trivia buffs alike.
/ Source: msnbc.com

Nearly 40 percent of Americans — some 110 million people — used a mobile phone in 2000, a jump of nearly 2,200 percent from just a decade earlier. That little factoid and countless others are part of the Census Bureau’s latest Statistical Abstract of the United States being released Thursday, a data-filled godsend to researchers and trivia buffs alike.

At nearly 1,000 pages the 121st edition — a new one comes each year — is thick enough to serve as a doorstop. (Don’t tell the statisticians that.) It’s also the first to make significant use of 2000 Census data.

It’s not as riveting as, say, a new Tom Clancy page-turner — and just slightly thicker than one — but it doesn’t leave much out. Between its covers, almost every aspect of American life is calculated, tabulated, evaluated and encapsulated.

By the numbers, then:

BULL’S-EYE: 37 degrees 41 minutes 49 seconds north latitude, 91 degrees, 48 minutes, 34 seconds west longitude: That’s the mean population center of the United States for the 2000 census. Before you break out the atlas, it’s three miles east of Edgar Springs in Phelps County, Mo. — a bit southwest of the 1990 mean. The 190 residents of Edgar Springs can feel very much in the midst of things.

GET ME TO THE CHAPEL: Nevada has the highest marriage rate in the nation, with nearly 80 people getting hitched for every 1,000 residents. (It doesn’t mention how many were state residents or how many ceremonies involved Elvis paraphernalia.) It also has the highest divorce rate, with 6.8 per 1,000 residents — barely edging out Wyoming’s 6.7. With a divorce rate of just over two per 1,000 residents, folks in Massachusetts seem to be sticking together, while folks in the nation’s capital seem to be staying far from the altar, with only 4.6 of every 1,000 Washingtonians getting married.

GET ME TO THE CHAPEL, PT. II: If you were a Roman Catholic, you were in good company with your 62.4 million fellow parishioners in 1999. On the other hand, if you belonged to the Serbian Orthodox Church, you were part of an élite 67,000 American members. In any case, you were part of an ever more religiously diverse nation, including its 1.96 million Hindus, 990,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses and 862,000 Seventh-day Adventists.

LIVIN’ IN THE CITY: New York was by far the most expensive large city to live in, more than twice the national average in 2000. Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston were no bargains, either. Chicago and Washington, D.C., however, were — both just slightly above the national average. If you were living in a city, you were paying more in 2000 for airline tickets, housekeeping supplies, doctor visits, tobacco and local phone service; on the other hand, you were paying less for full phone service and toys. (Want to save money? Keep the kids busy and call your mother; don’t smoke and don’t make a mess.) Incidentally, you were paying nearly three times as much for garbage collection and cable TV as you were in the early 1980s.

I’LL HAVE THE FRUIT PLATE: If you were out buying food, beef (at a national average of $2.33/lb. for lean ground beef), chicken ($1.08/lb.) and pork ($3.03/lb. for bacon) got more expensive in 2000; apples ($0.82/lb.), oranges ($0.62) and lemons ($1.11) got cheaper. Even so, Americans consumed 76 billion pounds of red meat and poultry in 2000, 21 percent more than a decade before.

BUSTED: Wiretapping laws in 45 jurisdictions yielded 1,921 intercepted messages in 1999, up slightly from 1990. Most were for drug offenses. On the other hand, federal prosecutions of corrupt public officials dropped slightly at the same time. Those who got busted might have had the most pleasant stay in Minnesota prisons, which spend over $103 per day per inmate, the highest expenditure in the nation.

HITTING THE ROAD: Prices for hotel and motel rooms kept rising, with an average of $81.33 per room at any of the nation’s 52,000 lodging establishments. Most business travelers stayed three nights or more; most vacationers — and Americans took 336.2 million vacations in 2000 — stayed one night. If you wanted a bite to eat, there were slightly fewer choices — perhaps because the total U.S. payroll for bars and restaurants jumped by over $5 billion — though some 480,000 options were still around. No word on how many got Zagat reviews.

PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES: If you had a bad flight in the past couple of years, you certainly weren’t alone. (Of course, you knew that.) U.S. airlines got 20,564 consumer complaints in 2000, more than double the 7,703 filed in 1990. Instead, perhaps you drove some of the 3,917,240 highway miles across the United States. For that matter, you likely drove over some of America’s 587,755 bridges — 28.6 percent of which were structurally deficient or obsolete. If you lived in Atlanta, Los Angeles or Seattle, you got to spend an extra 53 hours or more stuck in traffic in the course of a year; if you were in Kansas City, Norfolk, Va., or San Antonio, Texas, you were lucky: a mere 24 extra hours on the road annually. Maybe you just decided to take the train instead: 21.5 million people rode Amtrak in 1999.

ALL WORK AND NO PLAY: If you wanted to kill some spare time outside the 39.6 hours on average you spent working each week in 2000 (unless you worked in agriculture, where you put in an extra two hours per week), perhaps you joined one of the 1,329 hobby associations, 295 fraternities and sororities, or 380 fan clubs across the nation. Or perhaps you snuck off for an interview, along with the 5.13 million other employed folks who wanted to switch jobs, some 4.5 percent of the workforce. (Most likely to be looking: people working in sales or at a private home. Least likely: factory workers and those in protective services.)

STILL HAD FREE TIME? Maybe you went to one of the nation’s 807 racetracks, 607 amusement parks, 5,590 bowling alleys, or 269 zoos and botanical gardens. Or maybe you were one of 35,246,000 American adults who went fishing. No? Perhaps you helped spend some of the $851 million we laid out on snowmobile equipment or the $345 million we spent on tennis equipment in 2000. In any case, you probably helped spend some of the $535 billion Americans spent on recreation in 1999 — nearly 50 percent more than a decade before. (By comparison, we spent just over $9 billion in 1999 for lawn care.)

HOME, SWEET HOME: If you stayed at home, you might have been one of 6.2 million householders who remodeled their bathrooms; 4.7 million redid their kitchens; and 3.4 million refinished their bedrooms. About 2.5 million households added a deck, porch or patio.

If you still haven’t had enough, the abstract will be available in hard copy from the Government Printing Office or for download from the bureau’s Web site.

Oh, the cell phones? Your average bill dropped from $81 to $45 in the past decade, served by one of 185,000 employees — nearly eight times as many as in 1990.

Sorry you asked?