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Every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau makes a complete count, or census, of its people and industries. When the first census was taken in 1790, the new nation had fewer than 4 million people, almost all living along the East Coast.

Today, the total resident population of 281.4 million, is a rich mosaic of national origins, spanning a broader age spectrum and exhibiting a more diverse range of living arrangements then ever before, as illustrated by Census Bureau demographic data. Here are a few examples:

Racial and Ethnic Composition
Of the 1999 population, an estimated 225 mil (82%) were White, 35 mil (13%) were Black or African American; Asians and Pacific Islanders numbered 11 mil (4%); and the American Indian and Alaska Native population was about 2 mil (1%). An estimated 31 mil (12%) were of Hispanic origin. About 196 mil (or 72%) classified themselves as non-Hispanic White. The Hispanic population increased by more than 9.1 mil people over this 9-year period - more than any other group.

Age Structure
The United States has seen a rapid growth in its elderly population during the 20th century. The number of Americans aged 65 and older climbed above 34.6 million in 1999, compared with 3.1 million in 1900. For the same years, the ratio of elderly Americans to the total population jumped from one in 25 to one in eight. The trend is guaranteed to continue in the coming century as the baby-boom generation grows older. Between 1990 and 2020, the population aged 65 to 74 is projected to grow 74 percent.

The elderly population explosion is a result of impressive increases in life expectancy. When the nation was founded, the average American could expect to live to the age of 35. Life expectancy at birth had increased to 47.3 by 1900 and in 1997 stood at 76.5.

Along with the growth of the general elderly population has come a remarkable increase in the number of Americans reaching age 100. The 1990 census found that there were 37,306 centenarians in the U.S. Current projections estimate that the number will reach 131,000 in the year 2010 and as many 834,000 by 2050.

Because these older age groups are growing so quickly, the median age-with half of all Americans above and half below-reached 35.2 years in 1998, the highest it has ever been. West Virginia's population continued to be the nation's oldest, with a median age of 38.6 years; Utah was the youngest state, with a median age of 26.7 years.

Marriage and Families
About 56% of American adults in 1998 were married and living with their spouse. Another 24% had never married, 7% were widowed. and 10% were divorced.
Of the 103 mil households in the United States, 69% included or constituted a family -- that is, 2 or more people related by blood, marriage, or adoption. The remaining households consisted of a person living alone (26%) or 2 or more unrelated people (5%).

About half (49%) of all families included parents and children under 18. All in all, 36% could be considered "traditional" families, that is, consisting of a married couple with children. Since 1970, these traditional families have declined significantly as a percentage of all families, dropping 14 percentage points. However, their percentage has dropped only 1 point since 1990.

While the number of single mothers (9.8 mill remained about the same from 1995 to 1998, the number of single fathers rose from 1.7 mil to 2.1 mil. About 28% of children under 18 years of age lived with just I parent in 1998 (around 23% with their mother only, 4% with their father only), while 68% lived with both parents and 4% with other relatives or people not related to them. Nearly 6% of all children under 18 lived in their grandparents' home.

Population Growth
Some parts of the nation were growing much faster than others. The fastest growth, as usual, was concentrated in the West, where the population rose 1.6% between 1997 and 1998. Close behind was the South (1.3%). Growing more slowly were the Midwest (0.4%) and the Northeast (0.3%).

Nevada remained the nation's fastest-growing state for the 13th straight year, with its population increasing 4.1% between 1997 and 1998. Nevada's population had climbed by a staggering 45.4% since April 1, 1990, from about 1.2 mil to more than 1.7 mil. Arizona was 2d in population growth during the recent one-year period, with a 2.5% increase, followed by Georgia and Colorado (2.0% each) and Texas (1.9%). The fastest-growing state in the Midwest -- and 17th nationally -- was Kansas, at 1.1%; New Hampshire, meanwhile, took the honors in the Northeast with a 1.1% population increase; it was the only state in the region to grow faster than the national average.

Abridged from U.S. State Department IIP publications and other U.S. government materials.