Liberals Are Innumerate

This post was edited the following morning to add more information.

Given the fact that leftists accept the WHO study mentioned in the last post as unassailable, cite the recent decline in the unemployment rate as proof that Obama’s policies are “working,” and fling around aggregate NAEP and SAT scores in their attempts to argue that Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is the ideological love child of Mubarak and Hitler, this is the only conclusion I can draw: liberals are innumerate. Whence came their data? They have no idea.

Take the unemployment rate, for example. Who counts as employed? Who counts as unemployed? According to the BLS, you pretty much count as employed if you have any job at all, whether it is full-time or part-time. As SABR Matt observes in a reply to one of my posts below, this means that the simple unemployment number doesn’t tell us who is under-employed. How many people have settled for part-time work despite credentials which qualify them for full-time work? How many are settling for less pay than they have received in the past because they have no other choice?

And who counts as unemployed? According to the BLS:

Persons are classified as unemployed if they do not have a job, have actively looked for work in the prior 4 weeks, and are currently available for work. Actively looking for work may consist of any of the following activities:

Contacting:
An employer directly or having a job interview
A public or private employment agency
Friends or relatives
A school or university employment center

Sending out resumes or filling out applications
Placing or answering advertisements
Checking union or professional registers
Some other means of active job search

Passive methods of job search do not have the potential to result in a job offer and therefore do not qualify as active job search methods. Examples of passive methods include attending a job training program or course, or merely reading about job openings that are posted in newspapers or on the Internet.

So it’s not simply a lack of a job that qualifies you as unemployed – you have to actually be looking for work to count. But what about those people who have been jobless so long that they’ve essentially given up? Well, the BLS has a third category for them – “Not in the Labor Force.” If you are not actively looking for work for any reason, you fall into this group.

We need to look now at what has been happening to the labor force participation rate:


Source: BLS

As you can see, over the past several years, it has been crashing precipitously. Almost certainly, this is in part because the “Baby Boomers” are starting to retire, but is there anything else that accounts for the decline? That’s another question we need to answer.

In addition to the commonly used unemployment rate, the BLS releases five alternative employment measures, including one that attempts to account for underemployment (U6). Here’s what has happened to those numbers over the past year:

  • U-1 Persons unemployed 15 weeks or longer, as a percent of the civilian labor force:5.8 5.7 5.6 5.5 5.3 5.3
  • U-2 Job losers and persons who completed temporary jobs, as a percent of the civilian labor force: 6.1 6.2 5.8 5.6 5.4 5.4
  • U-3 Total unemployed, as a percent of the civilian labor force (official unemployment rate): 9.7 9.8 9.4 9.0 8.9 8.8
  • U-4 Total unemployed plus discouraged workers, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus discouraged workers: 10.3 10.5 10.2 9.6 9.5 9.4
  • U-5 Total unemployed, plus discouraged workers, plus all other persons marginally attached to the labor force, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force: 11.0 11.2 10.9 10.7 10.5 10.3
  • U-6 Total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force: 16.8 17.0 16.7 16.1 15.9 15.7

They all seem to be going down, which is good news. But again, the various unemployment rates don’t take into account our ballooning debts and their international context — and our shrinking labor pool should be a grave cause for concern given that we depend on that pool to fund things like Social Security.

In my experience, however, liberals consider contexts and nitty gritty details nothing but a bother to consider. Back when the Wisconsin battle was dominating the news cycle, a number of Facebook leftists – including a friend of mine who, frighteningly enough, is a professor – started passing around claims that states with weaker teachers unions (including those states – like Virginia – which have outlawed collective bargaining) have lower SAT/ACT and NAEP scores. When I jumped in to remind the aforementioned professor that correlation does not equal causation and that aggregate scores tell us virtually nothing because each state has a different socioeconomic composition, he dismissed my comment as a “Fox News phrase” and continued to insist that states with powerful teachers unions do better. His sheer arrogance left me utterly gobsmacked. Someone that ill-acquainted with elementary statistics is not justified in billing himself as an intelligent member of the “reality-based community,” and quite frankly, I fear for the education of the students under his charge.

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Not All Degrees Are Created Equal

I don’t hate teachers. To prove this, allow me to sing the praises of one public school teacher in particular to whom I give a great deal of credit for my better-than-average math literacy: Mr. W.

I don’t remember now why I happened to be in Mr. W’s computer lab that day towards the end of my freshman year of high school. What I do remember are the particulars of our first – and fateful – meeting. Mr. W asked me if I had enrolled in his tenth grade computer math course. I replied that I hadn’t because I had not received the requisite recommendation letter. “Which math course are you taking right now?” he asked. I told him I was on the Calculus track and was currently taking Geometry. “And what’s your average?” “97%.” The requirement for computer math was a B in first year algebra, so Mr. W’s response was immediate: “Well, let me go fix that right now.” Thus began our three year relationship.

My clients at work usually react with shocked surprise when I tell them the number of M&T courses I took in high school. In addition to the standard courses – Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II/Trigonometry, Functions/Analytic Geometry, and AP Calculus BC – I also took Computer Math, AP Computer Science, Discrete Mathematics, Elementary Statistics, and AP Statistics. I received 4’s on both the AP Calculus BC and AP Computer Science exams and a 5 on the AP Statistics exam. And why was I such an extraordinary math geek? Mr. W. It did help that he had such a funny personality, but I think it’s more important to point out that the man knew his stuff. Mr. W kindled within me a love for mathematics because he explained mathematical concepts in a way that was fascinating and eminently understandable. I’m not surprised that he was named Teacher of the Year just before his recent retirement.

Where did Mr. W get his vast store of mathematical knowledge, and how was he able to communicate that knowledge to the teens under his charge? He was a career-switcher. Before becoming a public school teacher in Virginia, Mr. W was an Army man. (Ah, the fond memories I have of teasing him on the days before the Army/Navy game! I used to write “Go Navy!” on the top of my test papers just to see how he’d respond.) As a soldier, Mr. W was called to use math, science, and technology on a daily basis. In other words, as a soldier, Mr. W received content-oriented training in the aforementioned subjects. And that made all the difference in the world.

The tale of Mr. W brings me to the central point of this post. One complaint I frequently hear from those who support Walker’s opponents in Wisconsin is that teachers earn less than others in the state who have college degrees and work in the private sector. Believe it or not, I do believe quality teachers should be rewarded with decent pay; indeed, if the state of Virginia had decided to pay Mr. W $100,000 per year plus benefits, I would’ve supported that move. But here’s the catch: I don’t believe most teachers currently receive the kind of training that warrants pay on par with the compensation college graduates receive in the private sector.

The left believes that if we just increase teacher pay, the quality candidates will flock to the school-house doors. But that does nothing to address the pervasive and damaging lack of rigor in our teacher education programs. So far, in my tenure as a private sector tutor, I have helped two elementary teacher candidates prepare for the Praxis — and in both cases, I discovered that their understanding of basic mathematical concepts was severely deficient. If you yourself don’t comprehend place value in the base-ten number system, how can you possibly teach it to twenty third graders? Granted, the plural of anecdote is not data. But quite a few studies back up my experiences on the ground. Such studies have found that, for example, teacher candidates seeking mathematics certification are held to standards that are wildly variant. The very best programs do teach content, but that is certainly not the norm.

One recent report noted, for example, that America’s prospective middle school math teachers spend an average of 40% of their training time on the actual study of mathematics, while the remaining 60% was devoted to general pedagogy and math-focused teaching methods. (In high performing countries, 50% of the curriculum is focused on the study of mathematics and 30% is devoted to studying how children learn math.) Moreover, this same study discovered that only 66% of middle school math teacher candidates take linear algebra, and only 55% take basic calculus. (In high performing countries, the figure is 90% or more.) “So what?” you may reply. “Middle school teachers aren’t going to be asked to teach calculus, so why should they be expected to learn it?” Because you need to know what’s coming next in order to adequately prepare your students for math courses they will take down the road.

If teachers really want to be treated like professionals, they shouldn’t put the cart before the horse. They should demand that they be held to standards comparable to those faced by other professionals before they demand professional pay. I initially wanted to go to medical school, so after I graduated from the College of William and Mary, I took the MCAT. The MCAT, for those of you who have never experienced it, is an all day test in which medical school applicants must demonstrate that they are proficient in reading, writing, physical science, and life science (and my overall score was competitive, by the way, though I was disappointed in my physical science sub-score). Now, I don’t think we have to go that far when it comes to education school admissions tests, but we should have something, and it should be designed to decisively weed out the idiots. Moreover, once teacher candidates clear the admissions hurdle, they should be offered a curriculum that is at least 50% content-based, and the classwork should be challenging. Let’s not waste our time with courses on how teachers can advance the cause of “social justice.”

Do you know what much of the public concludes when they hear Wisconsin teachers demonizing their duly elected governor as the second coming of Adolph Hitler? They conclude that Wisconsin’s teachers are historically illiterate — and given what goes on in our ed schools, such a determination is probably not that far off the mark. Teachers: You are not as educated as you think you are, and that’s why people resent it when you demand more compensation. No one is entitled to great pay simply because he or she has decided to work in the schools. You need to earn professional status the way doctors and lawyers earn it: through years of exhaustive study in demanding professional schools.

Responding to Annoying Liberal Remarks on Facebook, VI

One of my repeat offenders has struck again. This time, he is claiming that Virginia and the four other states who have disallowed collective bargaining for teachers also hover at the bottom of the pack when it comes to SAT scores. But the College Board’s position on state-by-state comparisons is pretty damned clear:

“The SAT is a strong indicator of trends in the college-bound population, but it should never be used alone for such comparisons because demographics and other nonschool factors can have a strong effect on scores.”

And indeed, when you look at each state’s report, you see significant differences in the testing population from state to state. Let’s look at the 2010 data for Wisconsin first:

Mean score: 1778 (R/W/M)
Number of test takers: 3,002
Ethnicity: 87% White or Asian
ESOL percentage: 8%
Percent with family income below $40 K: 11%
Percent who have a parent with a bachelor’s or higher: 83%

Now let’s look at the 2010 data for Virginia:

Mean score: 1521 (R/W/M)
Number of test takers: 59,031
Ethnicity: 67% White or Asian
ESOL percentage: 6% (Here in NOVA, I’m sure that percent is much higher.)
Percent with family income below $40 K: 19%
Percent who have a parent with a bachelor’s or higher: 61%

Virginia’s sample is 1866% larger than Wisconsin’s — and it is a documented fact that average SAT scores are inversely proportional to the number of students who are taking the test. Virginia’s students are also poorer, and their parents are less educated. And let’s not shrink from the reality that the achievement gap between white students and African-American students is going to have more of an impact on Virginia’s average score. Comparing Virginia’s test population to Wisconsin’s is not even comparing apples to oranges — it’s comparing apples to pianos. The College Board is right to declare such comparisons invalid.

Wisconsin: Three Leftist Myths vs. Reality

Yeah, I know – you’re probably sick of hearing about the protests in Wisconsin by now. But I can’t help myself — leftists on Live Journal and Facebook are driving me absolutely batty. Thus, I give you my responses to three pernicious memes I’ve seen floating around the ‘net:

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Myth #1: Walker manufactured the budget crisis by awarding tax cuts to his cronies!

Debunked by Politifact (which calls both Democrats and Republicans on their misleading statements, exaggerations, etc.):

We re-read the fiscal bureau memo, talked to Lang, consulted reporter Jason Stein of the Journal Sentinel’s Madison Bureau, read various news accounts and examined the issue in detail.

Our conclusion: Maddow and the others are wrong.

There is, indeed, a projected deficit that required attention, and Walker and GOP lawmakers did not create it.

More on that second point in a bit.

The confusion, it appears, stems from a section in Lang’s memo that — read on its own — does project a $121 million surplus in the state’s general fund as of June 30, 2011.

But the remainder of the routine memo — consider it the fine print — outlines $258 million in unpaid bills or expected shortfalls in programs such as Medicaid services for the needy ($174 million alone), the public defender’s office and corrections. Additionally, the state owes Minnesota $58.7 million under a discontinued tax reciprocity deal.

The result, by our math and Lang’s, is the $137 million shortfall.

Meanwhile, what about Maddow’s claim — also repeated across the liberal blogosphere — that Walker’s tax-cut bills approved in January are responsible for the $137 million deficit?

Lang’s fiscal bureau report and news accounts addressed that issue as well.

The tax cuts will cost the state a projected $140 million in tax revenue — but not until the next two-year budget, from July 2011 to June 2013. The cuts are not even in effect yet, so they cannot be part of the current problem.

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Myth #2: Walker threatened to sic the Wisconsin National Guard on the protestors!

Also debunked at Politifact:

When he spoke later that day to Journal Sentinel reporters and editors, Walker used the example of the National Guard helping run state prisons in the event of a strike by corrections workers.

In an email to PolitiFact Wisconsin, Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie wrote: “In the unlikely event that core government services are disrupted the Guard would be used just to continue those services. That’s what the National Guard does.”

Indeed, demonstrations over Walker’s proposals were held in Madison and elsewhere in Wisconsin on Feb. 14 and 15, with thousands of people showing up, but the National Guard was not summoned.

And on Feb. 15, the Guard issued a news release saying it “has not been mobilized for state active duty” and “we remain in our normal state of readiness.”

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Myth #3: The Wisconsin protesters are exercising their rights just like the Tea Partiers did!

At best, this is a half-truth. The pro-union protesters in Wisconsin are largely peaceful, as were the Tea Partiers in 2009-2010. And yes, both the Wisconsin protesters and the Tea Partiers have the right to stage political demonstrations to ensure that their voices are heard. But there are significant differences between the two groups.

First of all, no Tea Party group full-on occupied the Capital for days on end before the Obamacare vote. Tea Partiers raised loud objections to Obamacare at many townhall meetings, and there were several spirited Tea Party protests held in DC and elsewhere, but once the Tea Partiers had said their piece, they went home. They didn’t shirk their jobs to stick around — and they didn’t encourage Congressional Republicans to run away from their duties either.

(Again, don’t believe it when Wisconsin’s protesting teachers claim that they are doing it “for the children.” In staging their sick-out, they have denied thousands of children their right to an education. “For the children” my ass.)

Secondly, to my knowledge, no official RNC organ had a hand in organizing any Tea Party events. Indeed, the relationship between the GOP and the Tea Party is lukewarm at best. On the other hand, Organizing for America, the wing of the DNC that helped to get Barack Obama elected in 2008, has definitely played an active role in keeping the protests alive in Wisconsin.

Third, the Tea Partiers always picked up their trash. The Wisconsin protesters have sometimes failed to do this. This may seem like such a little thing to harp on, but I think the trash issue speaks volumes about the very different attitudes of the two groups. One group believes in personal responsibility. The other group believes in government. The fact that I prefer groups which champion the former does not make me a hypocrite.


The National Mall after the 9/12 rally.

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Hope this post helps in your arguments with left-leaning friends and relatives!

Some Sane Leftwing Voices on the Wisconsin Protests

Wisconsin: The Hemlock Revolution
by Joe Klein

An election was held in Wisconsin last November. The Republicans won. In a democracy, there are consequences to elections and no one, not even the public employees unions, are exempt from that. There are no guarantees that labor contracts, including contracts governing the most basic rights of unions, can’t be renegotiated, or terminated for that matter. We hold elections to decide those basic parameters. And it seems to me that Governor Scott Walker’s basic requests are modest ones–asking public employees to contribute more to their pension and health care plans, though still far less than most private sector employees do. He is also trying to limit the unions’ abilities to negotiate work rules–and this is crucial when it comes to the more efficient operation of government in a difficult time.

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Tyranny in Wisconsin
by Charles Lane @ the WaPo

No doubt Walker’s proposal is strong medicine. Under the legislation, which may pass as early as today, most public-employee unions would lose the right to bargain collectively over anything except limited wage increases. I suspect what union leaders hate most, though, is the provision that would guarantee the rank and file an annual vote — starting this April — on whether or not they still want union representation at all. This is rather more democracy and accountability than public-sector union leaders are accustomed to. It might make them think twice before blowing their members’ dues money on political campaigns like the not-so-successful one they waged against Walker last year.

Meyerson brands me a Scrooge (better than being an East German commie, I guess), but the reason I feel so strongly about this is precisely because the corrupt nexus between public sector unions and Democratic politicians is destroying the progressive values I cherish. The first of these is democracy, which suffers when union political consultants stifle internal party debate and control party nominating processes — or when bureaucrats and pols team up to seize control of government services from the voting public. The second is equality, which suffers when a privileged class of well-connected insiders use their clout to secure better benefits than everyone else — at the expense of everyone else. “Tax the rich!” the unions and their apologists cry. But you could confiscate the wealth of every hedge-fund manager in the country and still not have enough money to meet the unfunded liabilities with which public-sector unions have saddled the states and local government.

In my view, the voters get to pick their government every few years, and then that government gets to make policy until the next election, as free of special interest influence as possible. There is no eternal, Metternichian “balance of power.” Statutory arrangements can be changed after 50 years, if they’re no longer in the public interest. I realize it’s a bit idealistic, but we can aspire, can’t we?

In different ways, each of my colleagues wants to carve out a special exception to this rule for public employees who, they seem to believe, are entitled not only to their own individual votes in elections but also to permanent group leverage over the government payroll, the delivery of government services and the tax burden. Despite their obvious conflicts of interest, public sector unions should be able to wield this clout regardless of what the voters – “temporary majorities,” as E.J. refers to them – might say from time to time. Elections may come and go, Ezra implies, but “worker power” in the public sector must last forever. All hail the glorious blogger-proletarian alliance!

No, what the public sector unions really can’t abide is the legislation’s requirement that public employees vote every year on union representation, coupled with an end to the automatic dues check-off on state paychecks. For the first time in decades, these organizations would actually have to prove on a regular basis that they’re voluntary; and they would have to collect their own political war chests, instead of relying on the government to extract the cash for them.

In other words, it would make them play by more democratic rules. And that’s what they can’t stand.

Lane’s battle with his colleagues at the Post is especially impressive. Do read all four parts:

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

Fire ‘Em All

And yes, that includes the AWOL Democrat legislators who are blocking the democratic process in Wisconsin. They should all be impeached and replaced with politicians who will actually do their jobs.


Don’t make Gov. Walker (metaphorically) open this.

There’s at least one person on my friends list on Live Journal who is celebrating the chaos in Wisconsin as a grand crusade to “defend democracy.” I’m tempted to ask her how, exactly, refusing to show up to vote and/or busing in rent-a-mobs to intimidate the duly elected governor and legislature of one’s state counts as defending democracy, but I’m not really in the mood to argue with the brain dead.

In November, Gov. Walker won his race against Democrat challenger Tom Barrett 52% to 46%, and the Wisconsin legislature went red by a wide margin. The “will of the people” seems pretty plain to me: Wisconsinites want to fix their budget deficit.

When I hear that kids in Madison have lost three – three – days of school because their teachers are calling in “sick” to protest the budget fix, the only thing I feel is pure rage. In general, public school teachers receive higher wages and more benefits than their counterparts in the private schools — and in Wisconsin, teacher compensation in the public sector exceeds the U.S. average. Yet these same teachers are whinging because Walker, in a last ditch effort to avoid laying people off, has asked them to take a pay cut. I’m sorry — let me go call the WAAAAAAAmbulance.

As for the parts of the bill which seek to limit the collective bargaining power of public sector unions, I think the Wall Street Journal editorial board put it best:

Public unions have a monopoly position that gives them undue bargaining power. Their campaign cash—collected via mandatory dues—also helps to elect the politicians who are then supposed to represent taxpayers in negotiations with those same unions. The unions sit, in effect, on both sides of the bargaining table. This is why such famous political friends of the working man as Franklin Roosevelt and Fiorello La Guardia opposed collective bargaining for government workers, even as they championed private unions.

It’s high time for Walker to pull a Reagan. He needs to tell those teachers to get their asses back to work post haste or risk being replaced. I’m sure there are many unemployed Wisconsinites who would love to work in their state’s schools.