What such myopic statements don't take into account is the fact that nowhere in those totals do we know how many of those 50,000 actually got on the air!
Unfortunately, the REST of the story buried in such aggregated numbers is the fact that, according to statistics compiled by the ARRL and released at the 2012 Dayton Hamvention, the number of newly licensed hams in the USA actually PEAKED in 2009 (at 30,144) and has been headed downward ever since. Specifically, in 2010, that number was down to 27,528 and in 2011 it was down again to 24,072.
So, any way you cut it, the newly licensed ham tend in the USA is now very clearly headed in a downward direction. And if you add in the numbers of "upgrades" to these newly licensed ham numbers since 2007, that aggregate trend, too, is very clearly headed downward as well...from a peak of over 50,000 in 2007 to just over 35,000 in 2011.
My hunch is these recent statistics reflect a "pent up demand" of people who waited to get their licenses (or to "upgrade") until the FCC's Morse testing nonsense was (finally) dropped back in 2007. But it would now appear from these numbers that that demand has now "run out of steam" and, once again, our overall licensed ham numbers are headed for the toilet.
The other number the "all is well" crowd like to continually cite is that the aggregate total of US Licensed hams is now at an all-time high....just over 750,000. But even that number has now started to tip slightly downward in recent months as well.
However, here again, because our FCC licenses are all on a 10 year renewal cycle, all of the FCC's licensing statistics for our Service (including that 750+K number) were only completely accurate ten years ago! We have absolutely NO idea how many more hams have died (or walked away from the hobby never to return) since then who aren't being accounted for in the aggregate license totals that the "Morse testing and Incentive Licensing Forever" crowd like to continually hold up as "proof" that our systemically discriminatory licensing system in the USA is working "just fine".
Clearly, if the "graying" of attendees at ham radio gatherings, the increasing silence on our bands, and the increasing numbers of "Silent Keys" now being listed month after month in QST Magazine are any indication, I remain firmly convinced that we are now (or soon will be) on the cusp of a steep decline in our numbers.
Or, to put it another way, everything I see, read and hear these days tells me that the numbers of newcomers to ham radio in the USA isn't growing nearly as fast as the rest of us are dying off.
Indeed, as I see it, it's now only a matter of time before that fact also begins to show up in our overall US licensing statistics.