Have you ever asked Google to reveal the statistics on your community? Thinking of the upcoming census in 2020 got me curious about the place I currently call home. I can drive from home to grocery store to my children’s school and learn a lot by simply looking. Gated communities or public housing, parking meters or fields of cows — just observing tells me something about income levels, population density and the like. Around elections, the signs reveal with accuracy the political leanings of the county in which I live and the different leanings of the one less than a mile from my address. Eyeballing a place grants useful information, but numbers unmask some of what lies behind closed doors and just below the surface.
The quick facts from the U.S. Census Bureau told me that the mean travel time to work for those living in my county is 22.3 minutes. Most of those “drive alone.” In other words, not many car pool and public transportation isn’t an option. Most households have two cars. Median household income as of 2016 is $70,342. And, 8.5 percent of the people in my county live in poverty. All of this confirms what I see when I leave my driveway. But it also raises some questions I don’t often consider: What do you do if you don’t have two cars or even one? Where do you live in my county if you can’t afford the median value house of $317,300 or the median gross rent of $1,156?
A website called Data USA has charts and graphics and breaks down data into categories. I compared some categories from my current county to the one where I grew up in rural North Carolina. The median income in the county where I grew up is just about exactly half of where I live now: $34,819. The health and safety category showed that for every 100,000 people in my current county, there are 147 primary health care physicians. In the county where I grew up there are only 29 per 100,000. Educationally where I grew up, the highest number of graduates from the community college studied “gunsmithing.” Where I live now, the chosen area of study is “general studies.” Another graph reveals the opioid overdose rate by state per 100,000 people in a year: 15.4 in North Carolina, 13.5 in Virginia, 43.4 in West Virginia.
Bar graphs compare counties to states and states to the country, but none of these numbers show the impact on communities when public transportation is scarce or nonexistent, doctors miles away, housing unaffordable and opioid use prevalent. Driving through our neighborhoods doesn’t replace talking with our neighbors. Another recent survey revealed that social isolation is rampant, and that loneliness is a greater health hazard than obesity. Loneliness, one article states, should be considered a major public health hazard. We need to get to know each other.
There is a tab on the bottom of the Data USA website that reads, “Keep exploring.” I read it like a command to those of us called to love our neighbors as ourselves. Knowing the numbers of our communities might compel us to know the people — or at least prompt us to ask questions about them we might not otherwise think to ask. Where do people in rural areas get medical care? Are there services available for those addicted to opioids? What is gunsmithing? How does the average wage in my county compare to the median rent? How do people who work minimum wage jobs live in proximity to their workplace when the median price of a home is over $300,000? What are the fees associated with tickets and misdemeanors? Which languages are spoken in our communities? What’s the median age of the population? If the largest age group in our community is under five, what issues, policies and ministries should we engage?
Numbers tell us a lot about what we don’t see when we get in our car and go about our daily lives. Numbers tell us about the neighborhoods in which we live and should compel us to get to know our neighbors so that all of us are more than a number. So, keep exploring — or at least start.
Grace and peace,