It is interesting to compare statistics and reflect on the insights they give us into the very different lives that people lead. My attention was drawn today to the statistical abstract of the United States, which gives a glimpse of how diverse that country is.

Take commuting to work. The longest average commute in the US is in New York-31 minutes and the shortest is in south Dakota- only 16 minutes. So the idea of Americans spending long hours in their cars going to and from work is not borne out. I was particularly surprised at the South Dakota figure, for this is big state with a low population density.

The US does not believe in taxing motor fuel, as we all know. But even here there are differences. The highest gasoline tax is 36 cents per gallon in Washington State and the lowest is 7 cents in Georgia.

There are big gaps in income in the United States and income inequalities have risen. Some say this is because of free markets; others blame it on technology replacing people at the lower end but not at the top.

The highest incomes per head are found in New York, almost 61000 dollars, and the lowest in Montana at only 31000.

This situation will be aggravated by the growth in unemployment. A study by Colombia University shows that people who lose their job, are unemployed for a while, and then find another job, will do so at a wage that is on average 20% below the one in the job they left. And, even after 20 years, the research found that they do not make up the 20% differential. I expect there would be similar findings here in Europe.

The Statistical Abstract shows that the suicide rate in the US is half that in Japan.

But the prison population is enormous 2.29 million people are in US gaols, as against “only” 1.1 million people in 1990. This is huge toll in human lives and time. The rate is up to six times that in Europe.

Perhaps it is to do with the weather, but Alaska has the smallest share of its population over 65, only 7%, whereas 17% of Florida’s population is of that age.

Utah has 31% of its people under 18 and Vermont 21%, not a huge difference between the two extremes really.

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