By Ken Trainor
Over the years, I've learned to be skeptical of anyone who claims to be in possession of "the facts." Media messiahs are forever spewing overcooked statistics from half-baked sources. If you don't know the source, "caveat redemptor."
But there is one media source I trust: Harper's Magazine, which each month offers Harper's Index, a single page with 40 numbers, gleaned from a variety of sources. Where they differ is listing all their sources. They're also careful to note that "Figures cited are the latest available as of …" You might quibble with their sources, but at least you know where they came from.
This single page each month tells me more about the state of the nation and the world than the entire Internet (or the small percentage of information overload we're able to glean from it). Many of these stats might surprise you. They might even change your view of the world (of course, you have to want to change).
Here's a sample of some fascinating factoids that pulled the rug out from under my world view just in the last five months:
- Percentage increase in average annual federal spending during the Obama Administration: 2.
- Rank of that increase among the lowest under any president since Truman: 1 (that includes six Republicans)
- Rank of the United States among the world's largest exporters of human sperm: 1
- Number of hours worked annually by the average Greek worker: 2,032
- Rank of this number among the highest in the Eurozone: 1
- Minimum number of U.S. states whose constitutions forbid atheists from holding office: 6
- Percentage of Americans who believe that anti-American speech should be protected by the Constitution: 45 (we should be grateful it's that large, but it's still fundamentally un-American)
- Number of accidental 911 calls made in New York City last year by cellphones in pockets or purses: 3,910,373
- Number of reopened U.S. felony investigations that have resulted in exoneration since 1989: 901
- Average number of years each exonerated felon spent in prison: 11 (that's over nine millennia of wrongful incarceration)
- Percentage of U.S. veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan seeking disability benefits: 45
- Average number of U.S. veterans who commit suicide each day: 18
- Percentage of independent political spending on television advertising in the past year that came from anonymous donors: 91
- Percentage of political ad spending during 2010 elections that would have been prohibited before the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling: 72
- Estimated number of bats killed by white-nose syndrome since 2006: 1,000,000 (why should we care, you ask?)
- Minimum amount the loss of bats will cost U.S. farmers in pest control this year: $3,700,000,000 (that's why)
- Rank of the current U.S. teen pregnancy rate among the lowest on record: 1
- Percentage of profits that GE paid in federal taxes in the past decade: 2.3 (wonder what percentage Mitt paid)
- Percentage of the income gains in the first year of the recovery that went to 1 percent of U.S. earners: 93 (Mitt wants them to get even more)
- Average cost of an American wedding: $25,631
- Amount the average U.S. worker spends annually on coffee: $1,092
- Value of loose change left at Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints in 2010: $409,085.56
- Estimated number of houses built or repaired in Haiti since the Jan. 2010 earthquake: 18,362
- Estimated number of Haitians still living in displacement camps: 515,000
- Estimated minimum net worth of Mitt Romney: $190,000,000 (some reports put it at $250M)
- Estimated inflation-adjusted net worth of George Washington: $525,000,000
- Age in years of the average car on the road in America: 10.8
- Rank of that number among the highest on record: 1
- Percentage increase in total U.S. health-care spending in 2009 and 2010, respectively: 3.8, 3.9
- Respective rank of these annual increases among the lowest in the past 50 years: 1, 2 (so much for Obamacare costing more)
- Percentage increase since 2001 in female participation in target shooting in the U.S.: 46.5 (so much for women being saner than men)
- Percentage of Americans, by the age of 23, who have been arrested: 30 (you might want to read that one again)
- Chances that an employed American works in the service industry: 6 in 7
- Average annual tax savings for members of the top 1 percent of earners under the Bush tax cuts: $66,384
- Average annual income for the other 99 percent: $58,506
- Percentage of former NFL players who experience financial distress within five years of retirement: 86
- Amount by which sales of ADHD medications increased between 2006 and 2010: $3,400,000,000
- Percentage of Americans who believed in anthropogenic [human caused] global warming in 2001: 75
- Percentage who believe in it today: 44 (this is not progress)
- Number of private U.S. citizens killed in terrorist attacks in 2010: 15
- Number killed by falling televisions in 2010: 16
- Number of babies born in Alberta, Canada, last year who were given the name "Unique": 2
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