With two months till Election Day, it’s time for a state-of-the-nation-and-world assessment, and as I’ve long contended, the best way to encapsulate something that big is Harper’s Index, the monthly, one-page collection of facts provided by Harper’s Magazine (which also provides sources so you can judge the quality of the facts). I’ve selected a smattering of said stats to ennoble, energize (I hope not enervate) and/or educate you before voting in what promises to be a crucial election. Here goes:

Average number of hours per week U.S. public-school teachers are required to work to receive base pay: 38

Average number of hours per week they actually work: 52

Chance that a U.S. Google employee is black: 1 in 50

Percentage of young Americans who say they are comfortable discussing race with their friends: 20

(As Ferguson showed, we still have a long way to go on race)

Year in which the World Health Organization began keeping records on global obesity: 1980

Number of years since then in which at least one country has reduced its obesity rate: 0

(And a long way to go on obesity)

Portion of the U.S. electrical-power supply that comes from coal: 2/5

Average per capita income within 3 miles of a major U.S. coal plant: $18,400

(That’s a lot of coal and not much economic gain in the immediate vicinity)

Number of tank cars of crude oil transported by U.S. railways in 2008: 9,500

Number in 2013: 400,000 

(Considering all those tankers parked on the U.P. tracks in Oak Park and River Forest, does this make anyone else nervous?)

Number of states that have reduced their carbon emissions by at least 30 percent since 2005: 10

Number of those states that have seen a concurrent decline in economic activity: 0

(So much for the Republican argument that protecting the environment harms the economy)

Gigatons of cement used in the U.S. in the 20th century: 4.4

Gigatons of cement used in China in the past three years: 6.1

(Man, that’s a lot of cement!)

Average amount of higher-education tax credits received by families making less than $25,000 a year: $930

By families making more than $100,000 a year: $2,490

(Shouldn’t that be reversed?)

Portion of poor and affluent men, respectively, who favor raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour: 72, 35

Portion of poor and affluent women, respectively, who favor it: 69, 67

(To paraphrase Henry Higgins: Why can’t men be more like women?)

Estimated amount stolen in street, bank, and convenience-store thefts in the U.S. in 2012: $139 million

Minimum amount stolen through wage theft by U.S. employers that year: $280 million

(Are we fretting about the right criminals?)

Percentage of U.S. teenagers who receive no formal sex education before having sex for the first time: 83

(Are chastity advocates actually encouraging abortion?)

Chance that a teenager in a N.Y. City jail has a history of traumatic brain injury: 1 in 2

Ratio of seriously mentally ill people held in U.S. state prisons and jails to those held in state psychiatric hospitals: 10:1

Portion of inmates held in federal prisons who are nonviolent drug offenders: 1 in 2

(So our prison population comprises mostly nonviolent drug offenders and the mentally ill? What’s wrong with this picture?)

Ratio of PR specialists to journalists working in the U.S.: 4.6:1

Portion of people living in Illinois who say they would move elsewhere if they could: 1 in 2

(Maybe the state needs more PR specialists. Source: Gallup Poll)

Portion of college freshmen from low-income backgrounds who will receive a college degree by the age of 27: 1 in 4

Portion of freshmen from high-income backgrounds who will: 9 of 10

Minimum number of remains of WWI casualties uncovered in northern Italy since 1990 because of retreating glaciers: 40

(Don’t worry, climate change is a hoax!)

Factor by which a heterosexual U.S. woman is more likely to be killed by her intimate partner if he owns a gun:

(In other words, five times more likely to be killed)

Percentage of Democrats over 65 who support same-sex marriage: 62

Percentage of Republicans under 30 who support same-sex marriage: 61

(Maybe young Republicans aren’t a lost cause)

And then there’s the just plain mysterious:

Chance that a U.S. woman under age 35 has a tattoo: 1 in 2

Chance that a U.S. man under 35 has a tattoo: 1 in 4

(Surprised me, how about you?)

Number of firefighters required to free an American student trapped in a 32-ton sculpture of a vagina in Germany in June: 25

(I’m not sure whether this says more about American students abroad … or German culture … or German firefighters.)

Pieces of underwear brought to the N.Y. City transit system’s lost-and-found so far this year: 569

(Not sure what this says about New York commuters-)

Reading Harper’s Index is my monthly wake-up call. It not only highlights how genuinely strange the world is but also underscores how much change is needed (and where it’s needed). We can do something about all this, of course. First and foremost, we can vote this November — for candidates who are most likely to address these issues. 

Your country needs you.

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