- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 2004

Very little is abstract about the U.S. Census Bureau’s “Statistical Abstract of the United States,” a 1,385-page annual compendium of America, as told in some 1,400 tables and charts.

It’s quite succinct, however.

The hefty 2004-05 edition was released yesterday, summarizing life in our nation according to data: our ups, downs, ins, outs, health, wealth and happiness — or unhappiness, as the case may be.

“The diversity of materials can be amazing. There is a ‘gee whiz’ factor at work here,” Census Bureau spokesman Lars Johanson said yesterday. “People are impressed when they realize just how many things are measured. But then they often say, ‘Yeah, that was what I thought.’ The press, meanwhile, is always interested in the ‘Abstract.’ They get to present a picture of America in terms of numbers.”

We are a nation of eaters.

The latest statistics reveal that beef is still our meat of choice. The average American ate 64 pounds last year, but also wolfed down 57 pounds of chicken and 14 pounds of turkey.

Although we eat 9 pounds of cheddar cheese per person annually, the pizza connection seems to prevail: Americans eat an average 9.7 pounds of mozzarella a year as well. Our favorite fruit is the banana (26 pounds per person each year) while our favorite veggie is — surprise — the potato. We went through 45 pounds of them — and 17 pounds of potato chips.

We’re thirsty, too: According to the most recent statistics, over a year we drink 23.6 gallons of coffee, 21.9 gallons of milk and 21.8 gallons of beer.

More than 103 million Americans dined out last year — our favorite leisure-time activity. About 83.7 million entertained at home, and 33 million “cooked for fun.” We seem more interested in pastries, though. The abstract reveals that 37 million of us baked.

The nation’s forests and lakes hosted 34 million anglers, 13 million hunters, 66 million “wildlife watchers” and a well-meaning 13 million who said they helped “maintain the plantings in natural areas.” We’re playful, too. Americans spent $633 billion on recreational equipment.

Our homes may not be the safest spots, however.

The latest statistics show that 175,179 persons fell off a ladder, 211,250 fell in the tub or shower, 546,236 fell off their bikes and a whopping 1,087,546 fell down the stairs.

There are plenty of languages around, too. About 215 million Americans speak English, 118,000 speak Hungarian, 178,000 converse in Navaho, 706,000 in Russian and 615,000 in Arabic.

Faith is fluid in America. About 159 million of us say we’re Christians, up from 151 million in 1990. Of that, 51 million are Catholic, 37 million are Baptists and 4.6 million are Protestant — a figure that stood at 17.2 million in 1990.

While the U.S. Air Force is still flying 56 intrepid B-52 bombers left over from the 1950s, some 4.3 million World War II vets are still alive — along with 3.5 million from the Korean War, 8.2 million from the Vietnam War and 3.7 million from the Persian Gulf war.

The number of legal immigrants arriving in the United States these days is about the same as it was during the boom of the Ellis Island era. Between 1901 and 1910, 8.7 million arrived on these shores. Between 1991 and 2000, the number stood at 9 million.

As of 2000, however, there are an estimated 7 million illegal immigrants in the United States, according to the abstract, concentrated in California, followed by Texas, New York, Illinois and Florida. The majority hail from Mexico, followed by El Salvador, Guatemala and Colombia.

A SLICE OF U.S. LIFE

The U.S. Census Bureau’s Statistical Abstract offers the bare numbers about life in the United States. Here’s a sampling from the latest edition, based on data from industry and governmental sources. In 2004:

• The average American ate 16.7 pounds of ice cream and drank 23.6 gallons of coffee.

• 58 percent of American adults are overweight; 23 percent of them are considered “obese.”

• We traveled an annual 138,322,696,000 combined miles on planes, trains and automobiles.

• We spent $36 billion on books and maps and $18 billion on plants for the house or garden.

• The fastest-growing city is Ft. Meyers, Fla., with an annual 11.6 percent increase in population.

• The nation has 348 officially registered nonprofit fan clubs.

• 24 million people went on picnics; 69 million had barbecues.

• 2.9 million made ceramics; 9.1 million played bingo.

• 22 percent of us smoke cigarettes.

• 546,236 persons fell off their bikes.

• Americans spent $27 million at the beauty salon and $23 million on dry cleaning.

• 4.3 million World War II veterans are alive.

• One-third of the population attends crafts fairs.

• The average cell phone call lasts 2.87 minutes.

• The number of students learning American Sign Language jumped 433 percent, from 11,400 to 60,800.

• U.S. businesses spent 38.7 million on janitorial services and $24.8 million on garbage collection.

• The price of the average motel room is $83.54 per night.

• The fastest-growing job between today and 2012: medical assistants.

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