Ringing in 2015: The US in 15 fascinating numbers

As we say 'goodbye' to 2014 and 'hello' to 2015, here are 15 numbers that symbolize key trends and events.

Ross D. Franklin/AP
Quick Trip clerk Roxana Valverde adjusts the gas price sign numbers at a Tolleson, Ariz., convenience store as gas prices continue to tumble nationwide, Dec. 12. The price of oil has fallen by nearly half in just six months, a surprising and steep plunge that has consumers cheering, producers howling and economists wringing their hands over whether this is a good or bad thing.

A new year offers the chance to take a fresh look at things, including some of the defining features of American life. In honor of 2015, here are 15 numbers that symbolize key trends and events, from science to sports and beyond.

13,000

The number of troops who will remain in Afghanistan (mostly Americans but also some NATO forces) despite the end of Operation Enduring Freedom. That 13-year combat operation was the longest war in US history. The new mission for the remaining personnel? Training and counterterrorism efforts.

20,000 m.p.h.

The speed of the Orion spacecraft on its first flight, Dec. 5. The spacecraft flew, uncrewed, to test its heat shield, avionics, parachutes, and computers for missions that could eventually include a manned trip to Mars. That 20,000 miles per hour is a high speed by earthling standards, but for the record, Apollo astronauts went 24,000 m.p.h. in their 1969 journey to the moon.

320 million

The US population as estimated by the Census as the new year dawns. The total is rising in number but shrinking as a share of the world population (7.2 billion).  And in a symbol of the Sun Belt’s continued growth, New York was just eclipsed by Florida as the third most populous state.

1996

The last year in which the nation’s champion college football team was a first-timer for that honor. (It was the Florida Gators in that year.) Is that about to happen again? You won’t have to wait long into 2015 to find out. The University of Oregon is the team that could do it. A first test will come Jan. 1 in the Rose Bowl as Oregon plays Florida State. A win there would set up a shot at the title against either Ohio State or Alabama.

2 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit

The projected rise in temperatures “in most areas of the United States over the next few decades,” according to a 2014 US National Climate Assessment, prepared by climate scientists for Congress. “What is new over the last decade is that we know with increasing certainty that climate change is happening now,” the report said. It warned of damaging impacts, but said efforts such as greater reliance on solar power could help mitigate those effects.

7th

The day in January when a “brand new” comet might offer best viewing, even with just the naked eye. Comet Lovejoy, discovered by an amateur astronomer in August, will be visible near the constellation Orion. “Grab the binoculars, or if you live in a location free of urban glow, just use your eyes,” says Monitor science writer Pete Spotts. “By Jan. 7, the comet will be appearing to the right of the bottom half of Orion's bow.”

$2.26 per gallon*

The current average price of regular gasoline. (*Note: Prices at your local station may vary.) Gas prices have fallen by more than a dollar since the end of 2013 as global oil prices have plunged. How much lower will it go? We’ll see. It will depend a lot on whether oil producing nations tighten supply or keep competing for market share.

2/3

The number of new marriages that won’t end in divorce, based on current trends tracked by economist Justin Wolfers. Mr. Wolfers was quoted in a New York Times article debunking the notion that half of marriages end in divorce.

21

The number of states where the minimum wage is rising in 2015. In all, some 29 states will have base pay for workers set above the federal level of $7.25 per hour. Changes enacted since 2013 will be a financial win for 7 million workers, White House economists estimate. The gains are centered especially in low-paid industries such as fast food and retailing.

0

The number of comprehensive federal reports that track incidents in which people are killed by police each year. The lack of such statistics came into view amid public outcries over the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner this year. Incidents in which police died in the line of duty, tracked by a nonprofit foundation, rose in 2014.

19

The number of states where control of government will be split between Republicans and Democrats. The 2014 election caused a big jump in the ranks of these “purple” states, so get ready for some new tests of whether “divided government” works better at the state level than it does in the nation’s capital. Incoming Republican governors will face off against Democratic legislatures in places like Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts.

83 million

The number of households and small businesses affected by a data breach at the giant bank JPMorgan Chase. That was just one of the high profile cases of online vulnerability – an email hack at Sony Pictures being another – that made headlines in 2014, cementing cyber security as an issue that’s sure to stay big. (Keep an eye on The Christian Science Monitor’s focused coverage of this arena at http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Passcode).

24 percent

The share of Hispanic Americans who are former Catholics. That’s according to a Pew Research Center report on “The Shifting Religious Identity of Latinos in the United States.” The Pew survey found that 55 percent of Hispanic adults in the US identify their religion as Catholic, while 22 percent are Protestant, 18 percent are “unaffiliated,” 3 percent “other Christian,” and 1 percent “other.”

17 percent

The decline in America’s homeless population since 2005. A key factor behind the success: the rise of a “housing first” approach to helping people who lack places to call home, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, which reported the drop in homelessness. The idea is to help with shelter even if other problems in a homeless person’s life are unresolved. The alliance’s Stephen Berg called the success a “giant untold story.”

80 percent

The share of high schoolers who are graduating in four years. That historic high (since tracking began) was measured in the 2011-2012 school year and reported in 2014. Big urban school districts generally lag far behind the 80 percent average, but successes in places such as Houston (79 percent) show this is “not a chronically unfixable problem of poverty or demography or circumstances of birth,” education expert John Bridgeland said.

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