The federal government collects data on practically everything. These days, thanks to the Internet, all those statistics can be accessed, searched and downloaded free at any time.
Just this week, for instance, county-by-county business pattern data were posted. It included detailed facts on business establishments, including what industries they're in, how many people they employ and what their payrolls total.
In a different database released last week, the government revealed how much federal money was spent in every county and what those tax dollars paid for in 2008.
Such statistics paint a revealing portrait of the region's economy, even if the numbers come out a year or two after the fact.
Never miss a local story.
Take the just-released 2007 County Business Patterns report for Stanislaus as an example. It quantifies what most local residents knew: Far fewer people were employed by local businesses in 2007 than in 2006.
There were 139,706 people working for private Stanislaus employers in 2007, which was 2,222 fewer than the year before. Construction jobs shrunk by 1,457. Fortunately, manufacturing jobs increased by 423, which bucked the national trend.
Another pleasant surprise: Stanislaus' private employers paid their workers an average of $924, or about 2.7 percent, more in 2007 than they did in 2006. So those who kept their jobs did OK.
Here's one more interesting fact: About half of Stanislaus' private employers had four or fewer employees in 2007. Only 186 of the county's companies had more than 100 workers that year, which was 17 fewer than in 2006.
Want more numbers?
Look at the Consolidated Federal Funds Report for fiscal year 2008. It shows how $2.8 billion in federal tax dollars were spread around the county.
Most of that money went to retirees through Social Security payments, Medicare and disability payments and to low-income residents in the form of food stamps and assistance programs.
The federal government didn't employ many people or buy many products in Stanislaus.
County residents got the short end of the federal stick. Less than $5,472 federal dollars were spent per resident in Stanislaus last year.
Countless more demographic facts about this region are posted on federal Web sites. The U.S. Census Bureau Web site, particularly, is a vast data resource.
To find current and past Consolidated Federal Funds Reports, go to www.census.gov/govs/cffr.
To find current and past county business patterns, go to www.census.gov/econ/cbp/index.html.
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2196.