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Comparing gun violence in the U.S. and South Africa

Just hours after the shocking announcement that Oscar Pistorius, the South African double amputee, Paralympic champion, and Olympic competitor, had been charged with fatally shooting his girlfriend in the head and arm at his house, the press is beginning to place the incident in the context of South Africa's gun culture -- in an echo of the gun control debate currently raging in the United States. So, how does gun violence in the two countries compare?

The United States has the highest rate of private gun ownership in the world (88.8 guns for every 100 people), while South Africa ranks 50th, with a rate of 12.7 guns per 100 people. But gun ownership does not necessarily correlate with gun-related homicide: According to U.N. data, South Africa trumps the United States in that category, with a rate of 17 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people, as compared to the U.S. rate of 3.2. The United States, however, does lead the developed world in the category.

Interestingly, a homicide is more likely to involve a gun in the United States (where more guns are available) than in South Africa. Just over 67 percent of homicides in the United States are committed by firearm, while in South Africa the rate of homicides by gun is 45 percent.

Here's a list of the most gun violence-plagued countries in the world, according to U.N. data. (Note: Some of these numbers are more recent than others.) For more on this subject, check out FP's slide show of the world's 10 deadliest cities.

1. Honduras: 68.4 gun-related homicides/100,000 people
2. El Salvador: 39.9
3. Jamaica: 39.4
4. Venezuela: 39
5. Guatemala: 34.8
6. Saint Kitts and Nevis: 32.4
7. Trinidad and Tobago: 27.3
8. Colombia: 27.1
9. Belize: 21.8
10. Puerto Rico: 18.3
11. Brazil: 18.1
12. South Africa: 17

STR/AFP/Getty Images

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How does the U.S. minimum wage compare to those around the world?

In his State of the Union address last night, President Barack Obama announced that he would seek to raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour, a measure that would form the centerpiece of an agenda aimed at reducing incoming inequality in the United States.

That announcement got us wondering: How does the U.S. minimum wage stack up against the minimum wage in other countries? The answer depends somewhat on how one chooses to measure the minimum wage and the standard against which it is measured.

One handy way of comparing the minimum wage across borders is to measure it relative to  median full-time wages, which indicates the gap between the lowest wage earners and the mid-point of the income spectrum. On that measurement, the U.S. minimum wage is about 38 percent of the median, which is indicative of high levels of income inequality in the United States. Countries like Australia, Belgium, France, Ireland, and New Zealand have both higher absolute minimum wages and minimum wages that fall closer to median wages. In other words, living on the minimum wage in one of those countries puts an individual much closer to achieving a median income than it would in the United States. Unstated in all of this, of course, is that the United States is significantly wealthier than all of these countries. The graph below, courtesy of the International Labor Organization, illustrates the distribution.

Minimum wage levels in selected developed economies, in PPP$ and as a share of median full-time wage, 2010

If one looks at minimum wage from an hourly perspective, the picture is much the same. Of the 23 countries for which the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has data, the United States ranks 10th in hourly income in PPP dollars, a measurement of purchasing power that indicates how much stuff an employee can buy with an hour of work.

All this is to say that, relative to its wealth, the United States underpays its least-skilled workers.

Whether Obama's minimum wage initiative has the votes to pass a Republican-controlled House remains a fairly dubious proposition, but his advocacy on the issue might at the very least bring attention to the U.S. wage gap.