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Published: Tuesday, 5/22/2001

The body count still counts

Why Americans would object so strongly to filling out census forms, the least intrusive form of federal “gummint” intervention in our lives, is a source of continuing wonder. We learn a lot about ourselves because of the census, even if a true and completely accurate body count is elusive.

As a people we are growing older and staying somewhat healthier. More of us are raising children without the help of a spouse. The number of unmarried couples living together has grown faster in the last 10 years than the number of couples living together in marital bliss. And the number of households that included married couples has dropped from 55 per cent in 1990 to 52 percent in 2000.

In the Toledo metropolitan area, long a bastion of marriage and family, the percentage of households with married couples fell below 50 percent, a drop of 7 percent in the last 10 years,

Well, you might say, we know all that, or sensed it at least. Still, maybe people are not aware that the number of unmarried-partner homes nationwide is only 5.5 million, roughly a tenth of the number of married-partner homes. Wedlock seems far from finished in this country, so perhaps America is not the sink of immorality that so many take delight in suggesting.

Although the casual viewer, observing the great expanding American “waistland,” might not think so, the census indicates that more people are staying healthier as they grow older. That's good news because health costs are rising so sharply. But the aging of America, which proceeds apace, means also that medical costs will rise for those in the upper age categories anyway.

A non-Census Bureau source, Duke University's Center for Demographic Studies, notes that there are 250,000 fewer people in nursing homes and about that many more in assisted-living facilities. That's a plus on the quality-of-life checklist because the number of older Americans will only keep increasing.

Viewing these trends, one might even come to welcome a certain amount of immigration, illegal or otherwise, by able-bodied youngsters. After all, somebody has to help pay taxes to cover those Social Security checks.

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