Fond farewell to a great year for numbers lovers


Robert Samuelson

WASHINGTON — It’s a journalistic ritual. At the end of the year, we do lists and rankings. There’s the year’s biggest news stories, the best photos, the most notable deaths, the best books, the funniest cartoons, the best (and worst) movies. Now, let me add another item: the year’s most interesting statistics.

Truth be told, the idea comes from my friend Ben Beach, a recovering journalist who, for years, has included some of the year’s intriguing stats on the back of his family holiday card. This year, Ben’s list had six items. I’ve added four more. They appear below in no particular order. (The sources are in parentheses.)

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On a typical day, 3,300 American teenagers smoke their first cigarette (Washington Post, Dec. 10).

Only 13 percent of students in two-year colleges graduate in two years (New York Times, Sept. 8).

David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox batted .688 in the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals (Washington Post, Oct. 31).

A low-end iPhone has 240,000 times the memory of the computers on Voyager 1, which is now nearly 12 billion miles from Earth (New York Times, Sept. 13).

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The stock market has risen 30 percent for the year (through Dec. 24), representing a gain in paper wealth of $5.2 trillion. That’s produced 56 all-time highs, second only to 1995, which had 91 (Wilshire Associates).

A leaf blower with a two-stroke engine emits 299 times the hydrocarbons of a Ford Raptor pickup truck (Washington Post, Sept. 17).

In October, there were almost 5.7 million “missing workers” – people who had dropped out of the labor force but, under trends prevailing before the Great Recession, would have had jobs or been looking for work. Counting them would have raised October’s unemployment rate to about 10 percent, instead of the reported 7 percent (the Economic Policy Institute).

Half the Republicans in the House have served three years or less (Wall Street Journal, Sept. 23).

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After climbing steadily between 1990 and 2010, sales of diet soda took a 6.8 percent dive in 2013 (Wall Street Journal, Dec. 9).

Almost three-quarters (72 percent) of online Americans use social networking sites, up from 8 percent in 2005. There are few differences by educational attainment: 67 percent of high-school dropouts are users compared with 72 percent of college graduates (Pew Internet & American Life Project).

For all us numbers lovers, 2013 was a very good year. Robert Samuelson’s column is distributed by The Washington Post Writers Group.