Population milestone good time to take stock

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Good morning, Mr. or Mrs. 300,000,000!

Or perhaps it should be "Buenos d'as," since Hispanics are the fastest growing demographic group in the United States.

It was officially at 6:46 a.m. CST this morning, when the U.S. Census Bureau's population clock rolled over to the 300 million mark.

Milestones like these are good times to take stock of where we have been, where we are, and where we are headed.

It took until 1915 for the United States to reach 100 million in population. Only 52 years later, in 1967, it doubled to 200 million. Now, 39 years later, we've added another 100 million.

It's tempting to think of the past as "the good old days," but just how good were they?

In a lot of instances, not all that great, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The price has eased somewhat, but we're still flinching from the cost of gasoline, which was averaging $3.07 a gallon as of Aug. 7. It was only 33 cents in 1967 -- $2 adjusted for inflation, but taking your girlfriend to the silent movies in your Model T wasn't cheap -- 1915's 25 cents a gallon price was $5.01 in 2006 dollars.

If your girlfriend had already become your wife and you had a family, you also felt the pinch. A gallon of milk was 36 cents a gallon in 1915, or $5.01 adjusted for inflation. Today's $3 looks like a bargain by comparison.

And there were other ways life was hard when only 100 million of us could call ourselves American.

In 1915, 140.1 of us could expect to die from tuberculosis, compared to 0.2 per 100,000 population today.

There were only 2.5 million motor vehicles registered in 1915, compared to 237.2 million today, but taking one out on the road was more dangerous back then. There were 35 fatalities for every 100 million vehicle miles of travel in 1915, compared to only five today.

And, if you're uncomfortable with diversity today, you shouldn't be, it's been part of the American experience since the beginning.

Twelve percent of Americans today are foreign born, more from Mexico than anywhere else. Only 5 percent of us were foreign born in 1967, with Italy the leading country of origin, but in 1915, 15 percent of us were born overseas, with Germany the top birthplace.

In an election year like this, it's always easy for political hopefuls to point out what's wrong with our country and what needs to change. Change can be good, and we should always work to make our country better.

But as we welcome the 300 millionth American, whether through birth or immigration, we need to acknowledge just how good we have it today.

America's 1915 German immigration wave should resonate with McCook, which is preparing to celebrate its 125th birthday in 2007. Every year we celebrate Heritage Days, founded to celebrate the German ancestry of early settlers who came here via Russia.

The McCook Area Chamber of Commerce is planning a year of 125th celebrations, and is asking all local organizations to submit their plans for quasquicentennial celebrations by Nov. 1, by calling (308) 345-3200 or writing the 125th Birthday Committee at P.O. Box 337, McCook NE 69001.

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