Think “government statistics” and what comes to mind? Maybe graphs of economic growth or the unemployment rate-high-profile numbers that move markets and impact hundreds of billions of dollars in federal spending every year. Or maybe Census figures.
But the federal statistical system is far, far broader, encompassing more than 120 agencies and spending more than $6 billion last fiscal year. It also tracks some fairly unusual things. The Agenda scavenged federal databases to find some of the most obscure and surprising government data, the type of information that may be extraordinarily valuable to a small set of people, and goes unnoticed by most of us. Here are five:
The danger of bicycles, trampolines, sleds and more
Each year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission surveys hospitals on the number of injuries caused by more than 100 products, from mattresses to garden tools. Many of those injuries, you won’t be surprised to hear, are caused by sports equipment. Here are the rates for some of the most common recreational mishaps.
The huge boom in baggage fees
Starting in the mid-2000’s, airlines began shifting their cost structure to offer cheaper tickets but charge more for once-free amenities like checked baggage. Today baggage fees bring in a startling amount of money: more than $4 billion, according to data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
The mink survey
In the world of obscure government data, it’s tough to top the annual mink survey. The Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistical Service each year tracks the number of pelts produced, the popularity of different colors (“blue iris,” anyone?) and the price of pelts for the ferret-like mammal.
Libraries go digital
From ancient Greek libraries to the modern-day Library of Congress, libraries have always been filled, almost entirely, with one thing: printed books. But over the past decade, that has begun to change: According to data from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, e-books now represent nearly 20 percent of all library materials, up from just 1 percent in 2005.
The decline of triplets
Triplets and higher order births-quadruplets, quintuplets, and so on-are becoming rarer and rarer these days, hitting their lowest rate since 1992. One big reason for the decline: In 1998, guidelines on fertility treatment began discouraging doctors from implanting more than 3 embryos during in vitro fertilization.