Hams In Decline

According to this handy web site, which tracks the amateur radio licensing statistics of the FCC, the number of licensed hams has been in a steady decline for the better part of three years. The numbers (as of January 2006) show that there are just over 660,000 amateur radio license-holders in the United States, a decline of nearly 28,000 since mid-2003 (in chart form, since 1997).
On average, between 1,000 and 2,000 new amateur licenses are issued every month, although a larger number expire. By decade, amateur radio licenses have been in a net growth pattern until the year 2000; for this decade the aggregate growth number is negative. Interestingly, less than half of all hams are members of the American Radio Relay League.
This has sparked some debate within the amateur radio community. Many believe the decline is due to age, as amateur radio most likely holds more attraction to those that grew up without the internet and those folks are dying off (a death is called a “silent key” in ham parlance). However, one comment stood out to me quite prominently:
Today…we have the recruitment effort to make us an auxiliary of Homeland Security, the Fire Department, Police Department, Medics, Border Patrol, and probably a dozen other things are are NOT ham radio. We are even encouraged, yes, encouraged, to arrive on scene and brightly announce “I’m here, and I’m in control.” This P***es off a lot of REAL public safety employees, and I sure as hell don’t blame them.

We hams seem to have a very big case of HERO COMPLEX. It would be much simpler if we’d go back to just being ham radio operators, and do whatever job comes up that needs doing, and then get off the pot and shut the hell up….I have NO desire to put light bars on my car, carry a police radio and a badge and vest, and crash the scene.
Radio pirates have popularly belittled hams for the “law and order” mentality, but such stereotypes diminish the integral value hams have played in the proliferation of pirate radio. I’ve heard more than once from older hams who initially tinkered with radio as kids, sometimes throwing up “bootleg” AM stations to mess around with the technology. There have been cases of unlicensed operation where the perpetrator also held an amateur license. And, yes, there are hams who “hunt” pirates for the sake of curiosity and are not averse to providing helpful advice along the way.
It would still be cool to see the trends of licensing represented graphically over time.