Fun with statistics

Yesterday, I got a little involved in the comment-thread of this article by Megan McArdle.

At one point, another commenter posted something about the number of workplace deaths in the United States. Something like "4628 workers were killed on the job in 2012." *

This number might be valid, or might not.

However, I immediately noticed something odd. I remember that a much-higher number of people die in vehicle-related accidents on a yearly basis.

So, basically, I asked this question: since ~35000 Americans die in automobile collisions per year, is it more dangerous to drive to a job, or to be on the job? **

* This statement is a comment about a number, not an argument. But it was offered as if it was an argument.
I think I'm seeing these unspoken assertions:
1. A large number of people died on-the-job in the United States
2. Workers need some form of protection from this
3. Unions are both necessary and sufficient for this protection

This chain of reasoning has several holes.

About point 1: The data provided is only for the year 2012. No data was provided about how this number related to Unions, or to State/Federal regulations about workplace safety. No data was provided about how this number has changed as the level of Unionization has changed over the past three or four decades. No data was provided about how this number has changed relative to man-hours-of-employment over the past few decades.

Point 2 is hard to quibble with, but proposals coming from Point 2 depend heavily on the data that went into Point 1.

About Point 3: this also depends on data. There are many ways to reduce workplace fatalities in the U.S., and the Unions and U.S. Dept. of Labor have been trying to do that for many decades. Perhaps some data about these efforts, and how these efforts interact with business efficiency, corporate practice, and the change of Union membership in the United States, should be brought into the discussion.

** My source on this is the Fatal Injury Statistics website, which is provided by the U.S. Dept. of Health Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The numbers are between 35000 and 36000 per year for most years since 2009.
Oddly, the number dropped from ~45000 per year in 2007 to ~35000 per year in 2008.
The per-capita rate had shrunk in most years from the 1980s to 2007, but the static value had remained near ~45000/year during most of those year. But there was a big drop in 2008, and it has remained since then.


Vehicle death

Another blogger had to get rid of a vehicle recently.

In his case, he had a Jeep which developed engine trouble...of the kind that rapidly turned into too-expensive-to-be-worth-fixing.

He ran into one of the long-term-ownership problems in the automotive world. Almost all vehicles are now made to have near-zero maintenance trouble. For something like 8 to 10 years.

But most vehicles have design problems that will begin making ownership expensive. Sometimes these problems are foreseeable, sometimes not. Sometimes they arrive shortly after year number 8. Sometimes they wait until 12+ years.

Sometimes they are avoidable. My current vehicle, a Subaru, suffers from potentially-catastrophic failures to the timing belt. These tend to come somewhere between 100000-miles and 110000-miles. However, the belt can be replaced before this becomes a problem.

Other times, these problems are not avoidable. An earlier car I owned (early-90s Taurus) had transmission trouble. This model of car, though extremely popular, regularly suffered transmission failure at ~80000 miles.

Robb's Jeep had a different category of problem, but one with similar results. The engine failed, and in a way similar to most other Jeeps of that model-and-age combination. Thus, most junk yards have such vehicles, but few have replacement engines handy. (Robb noticed that the salvage yard had 10 such Jeeps, 8 of them with the same engine failure. And two engines that did not have such a failure, but required expensive rebuilds anyway.)

And in his case (as with my old Taurus), the cost of repair is more than the resale value of a good, working vehicle of that type.

One of the frustrations of buying used cars is that such things can creep up on the unwary buyer. Yet one of the frustrations of buying a car new is that after you keep it for a decade, you want it for another five years...and problems like this can also sneak up on you.

Like Robb said, it's a First World problem.


Going, going...gone.

Sold a vehicle this week.

The old Jeep had sat for months. One relative had told me they wanted it...then they backed out. Another expressed interest, then they also backed out.

In the meantime, the vehicle had become a little cranky. I didn't establish a habit of running it one day a week. So when I tried to start it, I seemed to find trouble 50% of the time.

Finally got it back into predictably-running condition, and put it on Craig's List. But taking it for test drives reminded me of the parts I enjoyed about the Jeep.

But I was also reminded that I don't like keeping a vehicle I'm not going to use. And I wanted to switch to a stick-shift.

So when the one potential buyer came to look at the Jeep, I was happy to get an offer from them.

I was also happy that they paid cash, rather than cutting a check. We signed the title, shook hands, and they drove away.

Now that the Jeep is gone, I miss her. But I don't miss the cost of filling it with fuel.

And I enjoy a car that gives all-wheel drive and direct control of the shifting.