March 24, 2000 | By: Mark Eclov

National census information is pretty dull stuff for the average individual, but for Julie Zimmerman and Lori Garkovich, rural sociologists in the UK College of Agriculture, the cold hard facts gleaned from this once-in-a-decade event are extremely important for local and state decision makers.

"This census is one of the few times we can find out what is really going on within our nation's population." said Zimmerman. "It is also one of the few times when we get really detailed information for our Kentucky counties."

A good example of how this information is used is a series of reports called "Kentucky By the Numbers" that were developed by the UK rural sociologists.

The reports attempt to turn a lot of dry statistics into easily to understand information that can be used to help community and state leaders make informed decisions on substantive issues such as roads, housing, and water quality.

The information is available from local county offices of the UK Cooperative Extension service. The series began with a focus on community information needs surrounding welfare reform.

"Since welfare reform was evolving from a federal to a state responsibility and then down to the communities, we felt that there was a need for a comprehensive profile of what the communities and counties looked like," said Zimmerman.

They named the initial project "Welfare Reform By the Numbers." The reports included information on housing, poverty rates, workforce, transportation, and the local economy. They also traced the unemployment rates for the last 10 years broken down into seasonal information.

"The list of items we selected to include were generated by talking with the people who would be using the series," said Zimmerman. "Even still, the first questions everyone asked was about how the series would be updated as new numbers became available."

The new series is arranged as thematic updates and together provide a broad spectrum of statistical data for each county in Kentucky. Normally most reports are printed on a single page (front and back) and some county reports get an additional page with statistics that are transformed into readable bar graphs and pie charts.

The data includes key information on topics such as poverty, local economy, the work force, transportation, housing, and population breakdowns. Updates are issued as new facts and figures become available.

The information can save time and money for community and state leaders searching for answers.

"I was told one county had received a grant to do some research on health in their county. The information ended up saving those folks money that they could invest in the rest of their project and not have to devote it to gathering this data," said Zimmerman.

The UK sociologists also spend a good amount of their time bringing the information alive by visiting with a variety of Extension and public policy audiences.

"We try to bring meaning to statistics, such as, what does it mean to a community's housing or sewer and water systems if the number of households is growing faster than the population?" said Zimmerman.

A great deal of useful information also is going up on the web and the UK rural sociologists have complied many of those site locations into one easy-to-read publication called "By the Number's: Finding Data on the Internet."

This fact sheet points out some of the primary web sites used to gather the data for the "By the Number" publications but includes many other useful sites for county, state and national statistics. The publication also includes some simple explanations of how to interpret the data and is available both online and at local county Cooperative Extension Service offices.


Julie Zimmerman 606-257-7583