Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Janesville by the numbers

Last week I filled out a census form for the first time. It took about seven minutes. The only confusing part was trying to figure out why so many people could get so worked up about such a simple exercise. Or, perhaps I'm simply naive and don't see the hidden evils behind the data the Census Bureau collects.

In 2000 I lived in an apartment above a family home, so I was probably only marked as another person living in the household. Now I'm the first name listed, an empowering, adult feeling. Now I truly feel like a citizen, and sort of patriotic. Television ads for the census have been everywhere during the NCAA tournament and it seems by now everyone should know that it's crucial everyone is counted so cities and neighborhoods can receive proper funding, among other things. The catchy songs and print ads explain the rest.

Here's the info on the 56048 zip code - which Janesville's a part of - from 2000.

The site compiles countless bits of information on practically every city in the country. I could probably remove practically from that sentence, since any site that has reams of info on Kinbrae, Minnesota - home to approximately 21 people - must surely have every city covered. Some of the info comes from the census, but the site also lists crime stats and voting habits, information it gets from other sources.

The information is incredibly detailed. Here's Janesville's city data. In most ways it's a portrait of a typical small town, presented with raw numbers and pie graphs galore. Some of it's a little confusing. According to city-data, the towns of Elysian, St. Clair, Pemberton, Eagle Lake, Waterville and Waseca are all within 3.2 miles of Janesville, when nearly all of them are 10 or more miles away. With my math background, there's a chance I'm misinterpreting these figures, though it reads: NEAREST CITIES. Seems hard to misread that description.

I found it surprising that Janesville's tornado activity is above the state average and is 111 percent greater than the U.S. average. Growing up we certainly had a number of frightening warnings and nights spent in the basement, huddled under sturdy pool tables and shaky ping-pong tables. But they never seemed to get close to the town, thankfully, and Janesville's always escaped the devastating damage that countless neighboring towns have suffered.

Janesville skews red when it comes to politics, as Bush/Cheney won 56 percent of the vote in 2004. This information isn't surprising now that I'm an adult, but this would have blown me away as a kid growing up in a family where Republican was a four-letter word.

"Wait, someone likes Reagan?" Now I see we were probably actually a minority of the small town population. Feel like rebels.

In 2008, Janesville had 2,242 people, a 6 percent increase from the 2000 census. The town's growing but the school enrollment shrinks.

Janesville struggled with a crime spree in 2001, at least compared to every other year. There were three assaults, 11 burglaries and 55 thefts that year. There's only been one assault since, though that number seems as dubious as the old election results when Saddam was running for president and taking home 100 percent of the vote. I often assumed every crime committed inside Janesville was fueled by alcohol or inspired by a pursuit of it, but the burglaries and thefts seem like they'd take the type of planning that's foreign to the average drunk in the middle of a bender.

When it comes to religion, Janesville people love their churches, with 34 percent of the population identifying as Catholics, 31 percent Evangelical Lutheran and 20 percent Lutheran. (As a Catholic kid growing up, we'd call the Lutheran kids, including my cousin, "loony Lutherans," counter-punching taunts of fish eaters; as a kid, there's no time or place for comedic subtlety). Overall, 82 percent of people are affiliated with a religious congregation, compared to 50 percent of the overall population in the country. Again, as a kid I don't know if I even knew what the words atheist or agnostic meant, much less that there were people who called themselves those things.

I'd also like to apologize to any Faith Lutheran parishioners who attended services at the church next to our house between 1983 and 1993. The building's vacant now, though it might still bear the scars of my athletic pursuits. I spent hundreds of hours throwing rubbers balls and tennis balls off the side of the church as I practiced fielding grounders or pitching. Eventually I started hitting tennis balls off of it, as our yard was a perfect setting for my Wimbledon fantasies. Usually I did this when the church was empty. Usually. There were also times when I'd compete against my dad in H-O-R-S-E or 1-on-1 at the neighbor's basketball hoop, games that often ended with primal screams and an occasional curse. Again, my apologies to the church members, though in fairness, they were highly competitive games. Any property damage to the rear of the church is not listed on city-data.

The town has 2.5 people per household, the exact same average as the state of Minnesota. That's Janesville - a normal, average, typical small town.

Of course, that's just what the numbers say. It's not always normal and not always average. After all, what other town has a doll that haunts the town? (Note: The doll and the dead: girl/boy/woman/man it represents are not included in census information.

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