January 11, 2010


The numbers behind Americans' everyday lives (Robert J. Samuelson, January 11, 2010, Washington Post)

Being optimistic, Americans commit suicide at fairly low rates, 10.2 for every 100,000 people in 2004, less than the 11.9 average for all industrial countries or Japan's 20.3 and France's 15.1. Food is cheaper here than almost anywhere else. In 2007, only about 6.9 percent of U.S. consumer spending went for food at home; Germans spent more (11.4 percent), as did Italians (14.5 percent) and Mexicans (24.2 percent). [...]

Considering today's economic slump, America may seem a land where progress has died. Not so. The Stat Abstract offers many counterexamples. Crime is one.

Two decades ago, governments seemed helpless against a rising tide of murders, assaults and drug deals. Then crime began to subside. From 1993 to 2007, murders dropped from 25,000 to 17,000 and robberies from 660,000 to 445,000. Crime rates per 100,000 declined more, because the population rose 16 percent over the same period. There is no consensus as to why. Possibilities include better policing techniques and tougher sentencing (the incarcerated population doubled from 1.15 million in 1990 to 2.29 million in 2007). But crime still remains serious, especially for the young: In 2007, 18 percent of high school students reported carrying a weapon sometime in the previous year.

There are other signs of progress. Smoking continues to decline, from 25.3 percent of adults in 1990 to 19.7 percent in 2007. Five-year survival rates for cancer are up: from 62.4 percent in 1990-92 to 69.1 percent in 1999-2005 for whites; and from 48.2 percent to 59.4 percent for blacks. Voting is also up; the 57.1 percent turnout in 2008 was the highest since 1968. Garbage per person has stabilized; it was 4.5 pounds per day in 1990 and 4.6 pounds in 2007. Among young adults (18 to 29), Internet usage is virtually universal: 92 percent in 2009, up from 72 percent in 2000. [...]

Since 1970, the student-teacher ratio in schools has declined dramatically, from 22 to 1 to 15 to 1 in 2007, with little effect on test results. [...]

By 2050, the U.S. population is projected at almost 440 million, up from 304 million in 2008. Almost one-quarter of elementary and high school students are immigrants or have immigrant parents.

Class size is one of those classic delusions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 11, 2010 7:29 AM
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