Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Actually, as Tom Finnerty explains in this week's Lincoln Avenue, the truth about all those statistical reports on Youngstown's economy is not as bad as that famous old Mark Twain line.  It's not that they're lying.  It's that when an organization like the Brookings Institution reports a finding, the details about the statistics get buried.  The Vindicator had a story about this on their front page this week, about how the unemployment rate is down but that the size of the local labor force has shrunk.  To make sense of that, you have to understand how the unemployment rate is calculated.  And as Finnerty points out, you have to pay attention to what is being measures, and where.  does poverty mean the total number of poor people, or the level of concentration of poverty in poor neighborhoods (that was an issue with the Brookings report from this past fall).  Does "Youngstown" mean the city, or the Youngstown metro area?  As citizens and readers, we have to pay attention, or we can be easily misled.

Finnerty is Associate Director of YSU's Center for Urban and Regional Studies, and it's a great resource for information on the local and regional economy.  The CURS website has links to dozens of reports and maps, on everything from crime rates to the needs of the elderly, dating back to the 1980s and up to 2011.  You could learn a lot by digging into their archives -- just remember to pay attention to the basis for the data.

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