The most Googled question of 2013 was "What is twerking?" The most Googled person of 2013 was Miley Cyrus. The Oxford Dictionaries word of the year — perhaps a favorite for both President Obama and Pope Francis — is "selfie."
Beyond these popular trends, however, reporters worked to reveal a much starker picture.
While the following stories uncovered by investigative journalists get far less attention, they reveal some disturbing trends about America that most people missed this past year. Of course, statistics only reveal so much, but these findings highlight alarming trends which mostly went unnoticed.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which monitors hate groups and anti-government groups, released a report showing 1,360 radical, anti-government, conspiracy-minded "patriot" groups and 321 militias now actively operate within the United States.
These statistics, released in March, show a 813% rise in the number of such groups since 2008, with increasing numbers each year. Hate groups are most prevalent in California, with 84 total; Texas was second, with 62.
Project Censored wrote that the use of social media and the internet has enabled hate groups to recruit and spread their beliefs more readily than in the past.
SPLC attributes the rise in anti-Obama aggression to his re-election, a shaky economy, and frustration over a political agenda with gun control and immigration reform. "The rage on the right is likely to intensify," SPLC wrote.
Investigations in Ohio, New York, and Oregon indicate that gang violence and intensity are increasing. The Toledo Blade in April wrote an investigative piece about a boy who was recruited to street life at just 9 years old.
There are about 1.4 million gang members and about 33,000 gangs in the U.S., according to the FBI. Gang members are responsible for anywhere from 50%-90% of the violent crime in various jurisdictions. An investigation in Oregon revealed that drug cartels are increasing gang violence in the Northwest. A deep look into Chicago's crime rate revealed that, "with the city’s longtime gangs splintering into factions and increasing problems with retaliatory violence, homicides rose suddenly in the first three months of the year — running some 60% ahead of the year earlier."
Again, the internet is playing a part. Wired wrote an investigative story in June about social media fueling gang wars in Chicago. "There are now an estimated 70,000 members in the city, spread out among a mind-boggling 850 cliques, with many of these groupings formed around a couple of street corners or a specific school or park. Young people in these areas are like young people everywhere, using technology to coordinate with their friends and chronicle their every move. But in neighborhoods where shootings are common, the use of online tools has turned hazardous, as gang violence is now openly advertised and instigated online."
The Pentagon estimated that 26,000 service members experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2012, up from 19,000 in 2010. Of those cases, 53% involved attacks on men, mostly by other men. In June, the New York Times wrote a piece titled, "In debate over military sexual assault, men are overlooked victims."
They say that women are significantly more likely to be sexually assaulted in the military than men, but that assaults against men have been vastly underreported. "For that reason," they write, "the majority of formal complaints of military sexual assault have been filed by women, even though the majority of victims are thought to be men."
In a seven-month long investigative series, the San Antonio News-Express stated, "The incidents often are retaliated against and discharged on false claims that they have mental disorders. Offenders, meanwhile, are rarely punished, and most are allowed to stay in the armed forces."
The New York Times looked into accidental firearm deaths of children under age 15 in the only eight states where the data was available. They found 259. But that number is far from accurate.
They explain that when children are killed in unintentional shootings, medical examiners and coroners classify many as homicides, or even suicides. The Times did a detailed examination of death records and found that federal statistics understated the actual count. In four of the five states — California, Georgia, North Carolina and Ohio — they identified about twice as many accidental killings than were counted in the corresponding national data.
In their investigative series "Bearing arms," it's reported that they reported that "fewer than 20 states have enacted laws to hold adults criminally liable if they fail to store guns safely, enabling children to access them."
About 1,500 state gun bills have been introduced since the Newtown massacre; 178 passed at least one chamber of a state legislature. Only 109 have become law.
The Daily Beast wrote a piece in December titled, "The school shootings you didn’t hear about — one every two weeks since Newtown." However, the Economist pointed out that firearm deaths overall were down.
The Center for Investigative Reporting wrote a report in September, "Veterans Affairs' opiate overload feeds veterans' addictions, overdose deaths." Prescriptions for four opiates — hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone, and morphine — have surged by 270% in the past 12 years. The analysis "for the first time exposes the full scope of that increase, which far outpaced the growth in VA patients and varied dramatically across the nation."
Temp employment is climbing to record levels following the Great Recession, according to a ProPublica investigation. In their July series titled, "Temp Land: working in the new economy," they write, "The system benefits brand-name companies but harms American workers through lost wages, high injury rates, few if any benefits, and little opportunity for advancement."
The highest concentrations of temp workers exist in Grand Rapids, Mich.; Middlesex County, N.J.; Memphis, Tenn.; the Inland Empire of California; and Lehigh County, Pa.
The temporary sector is growing but it does little to sustain workers' standard of living. "Temp agencies consistently rank among the worst large industries for the rate of wage and hour violations, according to the ProPublica analysis of federal enforcement data. A 2005 Labor Department survey, the most recent available, found that only 4% of temps have pensions or retirement plans from their employers. Only 8% get health insurance from their employers, compared with 56% of permanent workers. What employers don’t provide, workers get from the social safety net, i.e., taxpayers."
"And don’t look for Obamacare to fix it. Under the law, employers must provide health coverage only to employees who average 30 hours a week or more. After pressure from the temp industry and others, the IRS ruled that companies have up to a year to determine if workers qualify."