Innumeracy at the Citizen


For a scientist, Prince George Citizen columnist Todd Whitcombe doesn’t seem to be too good with numbers. Two recent columns contain numbers that are either just plain wrong or seriously misleading. The first was his column of October 30, 2006, in which he wrote:

…since 9/11, more than 150,000 American citizens have been shot to death by hand guns within the United States by American citizens.”


I don’t know where he got this figure, but the US Department of Justice tells a different story. According to their statistics, the total homicide rate since 2000 is a little below 6 per 100,000, for a total of approximately 18,000 homicides per year. Over five years, that comes to 90,000. By no means all homicides were committed with handguns, nor were all of those involved US citizens. I can’t find any statistics on the percentage that involve US citizens, but the DOJ charts show that only about 50% of homicides involve handguns. In other words, since 9/11, the number of killings with handguns in the United States has been approximately 45,000, less than a third of the figure that Todd gives. Moreover, killings using handguns peaked in 1993 and have declined significantly since then according to .


The second is in his column of
February 5, 2007, where he states:

The annual salary for a private is US$15,282, not including bonuses and allowances.

and claims that this is not quite minimum wage. Well, if you take the figure of US$15,282 and divide it by 2000 hours per year you get US$7.64 per hour, which is a little above the current federal minimum wage of US$7.25/hour as well as all state minimum wages. What is really misleading, though, is his dismissing the “bonuses and allowances”.

It is reasonable to exclude bonuses unless everyone gets them, but “allowances” are another matter. According to the US Department of Defence, at the lowest possible rank and time in service a soldier receives basic pay of US$1203.90/month, which is US$14,446.80/year. In addition, all enlisted men receive a meal allowance of US$279.88/month, which is US$3358.56 per year. Privates normally live on base, in housing provided at no cost by the military. If they live off base, they receive a housing allowance. The amount varies considerably depending on the cost of housing in the area, but it is substantial, on the order of US$800 or US$900 per month, that is, roughly US$10,000 per year. An additional factor is that most allowances are not taxable.


This calculator allows you to compute the approximate equivalent annual salary for various ranks, times in service and so forth. At the lowest pay grade (E1 with less than one year in service), a soldier living in an average location in the continental US receives total compensation equivalent to a civilian salary of US$2,657.74/month or US$31,892.88/year. That comes to US$15.95 per hour, more than double the minimum wage. That may not be a princely salary, or adequate compensation for the risks of serving in Iraq, but it is a lot more than Todd would have us believe.

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