Risk of Death for Border Patrol Agents, by David Henderson

November 30, 2017
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Alex Nowrasteh has an excellent analysis of the risk of death of border patrol agents, something that has received a lot of attention in the last couple of weeks.

Bottom line: the risk is very low. Alex finds that over the years 2003 to 2017, 33 agents died. That was out of 262,944 for a rate of 0.013%.

A standard way to normalize is to compute deaths per 100,000 people at risk. Doing that, we get 33/2.62944 = 12.55. Round up to 13.

That sounds small. Is it? One way to tell is to compare it to something. In their entry, “Risk and Safety” in The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, Aaron Wildavsky and Adam Wildavsky have a table showing the annual death rates from various activities and in various occupations per 100,000 people at risk. This compares directly with the 13 number above. The table shows that being a border agent is safer than being a policeman (20) and twice as safe as being a farmer (28). Admittedly, the data in the Wildavsky table are about 15 years out of date and, during that time, due mainly to rising real income (safety is a normal good), death rates in almost all occupations have fallen. But they probably have not fallen a lot. So the bottom line is that being a border agent is not particularly dangerous.

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