April. My 53rd birthday took place on the 4th. I never thought I'd be so happy to be 53. To help celebrate the occasion, I have cooked up a special flub, entitled Census Nonsense, dedicated to our hard working economic development people who once again tried to make something out of nothing.

The 2000 census provides us with our last glimpse of demographic data oozing out of the last decade, the last century, the last millennium. What we are confronted with is a hodge-podge of numbers that would make a mathematician cringe.

Here in Knox county and the Burg, the resulting compilation of facts and figures were met with mixed hyperbole. On the one hand, the powers that be were busy proclaiming the addition of 176 residents to Galesburg as a tremendous feat, giving us more people to pay taxes, build homes, and fill jobs. The Register-Mail headlined it as a ''modest'' increase. I have never seen so much made out of so little. Overall, Knox County lost 557 residents. Where did they go? Away.

After reading the headlines and listening to the economic development people on the radio, I got to wondering where all these 176 people were hiding? We haven't had a lot of new homes built; there has been no new people shopping at the mall; no new factories; and tax receipts have not exactly skyrocketed. So what's going on here?

Suddenly I had a flash. Nowadays these flashes mean one of three things: either I'm taking too much medication, I'm constipated, or someone is trying to pull my leg, causing severe disequilibrium in my brain. I got to thinking: Somewhere around 1985, the State of Illinois built us a brand new, ultra-modern, 900 bed minimum security prison, complete with 900 prisoners, mostly from Chicago. At the time, with Galesburg Mental Health Center closing, and OMC moving south, we would have taken a death camp. We needed jobs, particularly for our Republican residents. The economic development people thought the prison was our ticket to prosperous times. It ended up the Warren County Republican Chairman had a few more connections. We got the prison, he got the jobs. The prison opened for business in October, 1986.

My brain wondered, does the census count prisoners? And if so, who gets credit for them, their home town, or the town in which they are residing? I called the Midwest Regional Census Bureau, in Chicago. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Hello. Do you count prisoners in the census?

Census Bureau: Hang on, you need to speak to the librarian.

Me: Hello. Do you count prisoners in the census?

Census Bureau: I'm sorry, they gave you the wrong extension. You need the librarian. Hang on.

Me: Hello. Is this the librarian?

Census Bureau: Yes. Can I help you.

Me: Do you count prisoners in the census?

Census Bureau: Yes. We count everything and anything that can stand on two legs.

Me: I know a goat in Oquawka that can stand on two legs. You don't mean to tell me...

Census Bureau: You know what I mean.

Me: Sorry. So you count prisoners. Now, does the city the prisoner came from get credit, or the town in which they are temporarily residing?

Census Bureau: The town they are residing in at the time of the count.

Me: So, in the 1990 census, with an addition of a 900 bed prison in Galesburg, our census figures would have included approximately 900 prison residents?

Census Bureau: Yes, that would be correct.

Me: And in the 2000 census, we would have gained another 900 prison residents due to you city folks being so naughty and the prison population doubling?

Census Bureau: Yes, your figures would be accurate, but your reasoning might be a little shallow.

Me: Thank you. You have been very helpful. I don't suppose your brother would be living in Galesburg?

Census Bureau: You're welcome. And I don't give out personal information. Sorry.

Me: I knew it. Goodbye.

Now, let's add this up. In 1990, we had 56,393 people living in Knox County, for a total loss of 5214 individuals during the decade of 1980. Galesburg lost 1775 of that total. With the 2000 figures, Knox County had 55,836 residents, down 557 for the decade. Galesburg gained 176 persons, with 33,706. Adding 5214, the loss during 1980, 557 persons, representing the lose in the 1990s, and adding 1800 prisoner residents, who were added to the census in 1990 and 2000, we come up with 7571 residents lost over the last two decades. Galesburg's population, minus the prisoners, is 31,901. Our 1980 census figure for Galesburg, 35,305, and for all of Knox County, 61,607. Far from a modest gain, we are in dire straits.

Today there are 65 detention facilities dotting the Illinois landscape. Prisoners have become the largest cash crop in the state. And a funny thing happened on our way to the promised land: we have become a much more integrated state. Some of our lily-white rural towns now have a significant influx of Hispanic and African-Americans, In fact, Galesburg has seen approximately 1000 new minority persons during the last decade alone. But as fate would have it, most of them reside at Henry Hill, leading me back to my central thesis, which I believe had something to do with dying towns taking on a prison to revive themselves, only to be forever trying to convince themselves that the fence surrounding the prison does not in fact surround the entire town.

And who better to blame it on than the economic development people. Sorry, this flub's for you.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online April 24, 2001

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