In the small town that was Nashville three decades ago, among the abundant civic assets were little old ladies who would greet strangers with the polite query: "And who are your people, deah?"
They are passing from the scene faster than H.G. Hill stores these days, but in their time, these formidable matrons could instantly scan your name against a mental database of old-Nashville families that ran from Armistead to Zollicoffer. And then they would know who you were.
Today we're left to rely on the United States Census Bureau to tell us who we are. In its 2005 American Community Survey, released this morning, the census-takers aim to do just that. The ACS program surveys about three million households a year, collecting demographic and housing data and extrapolating the results to cover the entire population.
The authorities say there are 1,384,347 of us, give or take 4,681 souls (the margin of error), living in the 13-county Nashville metropolitan statistical area. The bureau defines the area as encompassing Cannon, Cheatham, Davidson, Dickson, Hickman, Macon, Robertson, Rutherford, Smith, Sumner, Trousdale, Williamson and Wilson Counties. The total figure is about 109,000 more than last year's sum, representing a population increase of 8.6 percent.
The Nashville-area Hispanic population grew by about 6,000 from 2004 to 2005, according to the figures, to reach about 64,600. In 2002, the first year that ACS published localized data on Nashville, the survey counted 47,300 Hispanic residents. The African-American population, meanwhile, grew from 204,000 in 2004 to 212,000 in 2005.
The economic section of the survey shows that median household income for the area came in at $45,543 in 2005, down from $48,446 in 2004 and $47,204 in 2003.
Nationally, real median household income increased in 2005, making it the first year since 1999 to show such progress. Other measures were less encouraging, such as the growth in the ranks of those living without health insurance to 46.6 million people, 5.9 percent of the American population.
By way of financial comparison with rival localities, Nashville stacks up as a notch or so beneath Atlanta and a notch or two ahead of Memphis.
In per capita income, Nashville's figure of $25,994 comes in about $3,000 above Memphis and about $1,800 below Atlanta. An estimated 16,733 of Nashville-area families, or about 4.4 percent of all families, make $200,000 or more a year. That income figure compares to 65,443 families, 5.4 percent, in Atlanta and 10,867 families, 3.4 percent, in Memphis.
At the other end of the scale, 13 percent of Nashville-area families (some 48,757 households) bring in less than $20,000 a year, compared with 18.8 percent of families in Memphis and 11.3 percent in Atlanta.
Nine percent of our families live below the federal poverty level -- but among single-mom households with kids under five years of age, nearly half fall under the poverty line. Approximately 163,000 people in Nashville had incomes of less than the poverty level in 2005.
According to the social-characteristics portion of the report, some 31 percent of the over-25 population have high school diplomas only, 19 percent have terminal bachelor's degrees, and 10 percent (about 89,000 people) have graduate or professional degrees. More than 100,000 military veterans are in our midst, and a similar number of us speak a language other than English at home.
Just over 300,000 guys out there are married, while just under 300,000 women are said to be hitched. The difference is greater than the margin of error, so perhaps there are some alternative living arrangements afoot in adventurous Nashville.
An estimated 2,628 of us claim Greek ancestry (no doubt to be joined by plenty of honorary Hellenes at Holy Trinity's Greek Festival in a couple of weeks), while 7,783 say we are of Arab descent and 42,985 call ourselves Scotch-Irish, although the data are not broken down in enough detail to indicate which of those respondents were referring to Glenfiddich and which meant Jameson.
Related link: American Community Survey website