Answer Man

$7,000 a week for life — Publishers Clearing House delivers

Don’t expect to see the Prize Patrol in your neighborhood.
Don’t expect to see the Prize Patrol in your neighborhood.

Q: When Publishers Clearing House says its prize will pay $7,000 a week for life, does that really mean winners get checks until they die? Do they actually award these prizes? If so, how do they afford it?

Bill Hearty, of Cahokia

A: The company has battled legal problems over linguistics in the past, but when it comes to making good on those humongous prizes, it apparently puts its money where its mouth is. So, on the infinitesimal chance you see the Prize Patrol car pulling into your driveway, you can rest assured that you will indeed get $7,000 a week for the rest of your natural life.

It now seems hard to believe that in 1953, Harold Mertz along with his wife and daughter started the company in his basement in Port Washington, N.Y. A former manager of a team of door-to-door magazine sellers, Mertz that year sent out 10,000 solicitations that offered 20 magazine subscriptions. He received only 100 orders, but it was enough to convince him he was onto something. By 1967, he began enticing recipients with prizes that ranged from 25 cents to $10 with a 1-in-10 chance of winning. Since then, they have awarded $258 million in prizes — including one last year that allowed a child, for example, to continue receiving the prize after his parents had passed on.

If you think their claims are so much hot air, remember what happened to Michael Miller on Aug. 29, 2013, in the tiny town of Moro, just northeast of Bethalto. After ordering World War II Magazine and sending in his sweepstakes entry, he found 20 people with balloons and cameras at his door ready to tell him he had won $5,000 a week forever. Just 26, Miller was the youngest person ever to win such a prize from PCH. And get this: Miller, who was living with his mom, had lost his job and had been out of work for months.

“Are you kidding me?!!!” his sister screamed.

As for paying the awards, the website reminds you that in addition to magazines, the company since the 1980s has begun offering a raft of other merchandise, including housewares, DVDs, music, coins, etc. Over the years, the only trouble the company has faced is the wording of its sweepstakes notices. On several occasions, courts fined the company for telling everyone they were “finalists” or that they were “guaranteed winners.”

Even from the start, the company in its fine print has stated flatly that you really don’t have to buy anything to enter and win. But I wouldn’t spend too much time contemplating PCH giving you an early retirement: Your chance of winning $7,000 a week for life is 1 in 1.7 billion.

Q: I see a frighteningly large number of obituary notices in the BND. I hope some of these notices are republished a number of times. I shudder to think so many of us are dying every day. How do the number of deaths here compare to the rest of the country? Is our local population declining or increasing?

David Busse, of Maryville

A: If you page through our obituary section regularly, it does seem that death, rather than taking an occasional holiday, often seems to be working overtime. On some days, you’ll find four or five pages stuffed with death notices, making you wonder whether you should run for the hills to get away from whatever is in the water or air here.

But if you take the time to crunch the data carefully, you may find that, as is often the case, your first impression is faulty. I’ve had the same question as you for a long time, so I did a quick study Tuesday and found the overall numbers were pretty much in line with the rest of the nation.

Let’s look at the week of March 1-7. According to our website counter, there were 191 obituaries published online. But as you correctly assumed, many of these — 45, or nearly a fourth — were repeats, bringing the total down to 146. That probably still sounds high (more than 20 a day) until you look even more closely. You’ll find that another 34 were former residents who died outside the area — Springfield, Peoria, St. Petersburg, Fla., etc. So, of the original 191 obituaries, only 112 were of people who resided in the metro-east.

As it turns out, this number is similar to what you might expect anywhere in the country. According to 2013 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a city of 100,000 will see 821.5 deaths every year or about 2.25 every day. As of 2013, the population of the metro-east was about 675,000, so multiply 6.75 times 2.25 and you get about 15.2 deaths per day or 106.4 a week. Compare that to the 112 which actually occurred last week and I think you’ll agree the difference is likely well within some allowable statistical deviation.

Purely anecdotal, I seem to notice an increase in obituaries during the winter, so differences also may be due to the season when people may tend to be sicker. Also, you’ll find that in the newspaper, certain days are more popular for obituaries because our circulation is higher on a Sunday, for example.

As for population numbers, the two most populous counties — Madison and St. Clair — have had a net loss of residents recently, but not by much. According to the U.S. Census, St. Clair fell 1.6 percent (270,056 to 265,729) from 2010 to 2014 while Madison dropped 1 percent (269,282 to 266,580). At the same time, Monroe County saw a 2.3 percent increase, and Clinton County added three-tenths of a percent. And you always have to take economic factors and new population trends into account for these changes, not just birth-death numbers.

So while it’s always prudent to have your wills, trusts and powers of attorney in order, there seems no reason to think your exit will necessarily be an extra hasty one because you live here. One final fact for your amusement: According to 2010 numbers from the Population Reference Bureau, 384,000 people are born every day worldwide, far more than enough to replace the 156,000 who die.

Today’s trivia

In 1761, who began running a ferry at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers in Jefferson County, W.Va.?

Answer to Wednesday’s trivia: After signing a deal with Columbia Records in 1972, Bruce Springsteen began forming a band to back him on his debut album, “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.” One of the musicians he chose was keyboardist David Sancious, whose mother allowed the still-unknown group to practice in her garage — at 1107 E St. in Belmar, N.J. In September 1974, the group officially began billing itself as the E Street Band. But by that time, Sancious, who was the only member to live on E Street, had left the band with drummer Ernest “Boom” Carter to form their own jazz fusion band, Tone.

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer