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Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of ten of America's presidencies and who has edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. We get over 5 million article visits a year. See for full contents of our site

January 12, 2010


Robert J. Samuelson, Washington Post - Turn to Page 673 of the Statistical Abstract of the United States, and you find these intriguing figures. About three-quarters of Americans (76.1 percent in 2007, to be exact) get to work by driving alone. Only 10.4 percent carpool, while 4.9 percent use public transportation and 2.8 percent walk. On average, Americans spend 25.3 minutes commuting each way. The state with the longest commuting time is New York, at 31.5 minutes; the states with the shortest are North and South Dakota, at about 16 minutes, followed closely by Montana and Nebraska, at 17.6.

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). On the other hand, low food prices may contribute to Americans' obesity. In 2006, about 34 percent of U.S. adults were judged obese, triple France's rate (10.5 percent) and four times that of Switzerland (7.7 percent).

In 2009, women were 16.8 percent of the U.S. House of Representatives. In other national legislatures, women did better. For Canada, the comparable figure was 22.1 percent; for the Netherlands, 41.3 percent. The United States was nearly on a par with Uzbekistan's 17.5 percent.

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. . .

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.

But bad news abounds, too. In 2007, nearly two-fifths of all U.S. births were to unmarried women, double the share in 1980. 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. The share of children under the federal poverty line in 2007 (17.6 percent) was virtually the same as in 1980 (17.9 percent).


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