Apples

Fall colors are creeping across the foliage here in the North Star state. Temps are dropping into the 50’s at night. And mums are appearing in planters snuggled up to front doors. This time of year families head to apple orchards for hay rides and hot cider.

Minnesota has a long history of cultivating varieties of apples. The sweet and tangy Honeycrisp still commands an extra $1-$1.5 a pound at the grocers. But if you’re wondering how best to use your apples, the Saint Paul Farmers Market has but together a flow chart for you.

Early learners find out that A is for apple. The apple has the dubious distinction of temping Eve into dragging all the rest of us into a world of lurking temptations. An apple was Newton’s famous inspiration. Apple Records was founded by the Beatles in 1968. Rene Magritte’s famous painting places a floating green apple in front of the face of a man in a dark grey suit. Now you can access your music through Apple i-phones. An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

Religion, science, the arts, technology, public health and education. The apple is well represented in the infrastructure of our lives.

9/11- Twenty years on

Twenty years ago, a blue sky day started the same as most days. With my infant child in his car seat behind me I drove the short distance to Golden Valley Lutheran where he attended daycare. He was four months old at the time and we had just started at the daycare, so I’m sure I was pre-occupied with the drop-off routine. As we walked in, with the car seat handle crooked in one arm and Aaron’s blankie in the other, I overheard a background conversation about a personal aircraft colliding into a skyscraper.

The sun was shining bright through the windows yet the atmosphere in the building was buzzing with electricity. I didn’t think much of it except to perhaps wonder about the level of concern in the air. Next stop my office. In that ten minute drive, the situation had unfolded. My office manager already had pulled out a TV in our conference room and other agents were gather around it on office chairs. The towers were on the monitor. One was smoking. People were trying to catch up to the story. We all sat mesmerized and the speck of a plane hit the second tower.

Now there was no confusion, only horror at the clarity of what was to become of all those people set up for their workday in Manhattan.

It gets fuzzy on how exactly the day went. One of my brothers made sure to call all of us, as we live in various locations across the US and Canada, to be sure everyone was OK. My husband worked in downtown Minneapolis at the time, and the employees were evacuated out of fear of cascading attacks. For several days following the event it was as if the ashes from the east coated our neighborhood with a quiet mourning. More homes flew American flags from their front porches.

I choke up even now at what happen to those folks. Their last phone calls to their loved ones. The doom that must have settled in as one building toppled.

Two years ago, for his graduation present, I took Aaron to New York City over a long weekend. We were on the upper level of the tour bus while going through Lower Manhattan when the fire trucks were called for a bomb threat. It was chaos. The fire engins could barely move through traffic. We were transfixed. The New York tour guy was thoroughly unimpressed. What his city had experienced twenty years ago will dwarf alarming incidents for decades to come.

Matching like to like–cohort addition

Framing up the data around issues can highlight one view while smothering another. All the numbers are correct, it is the sorting and comparing which is all a kilter. Take for instance the topic of home ownership. Here are the rates by state provided by FRED. Minnesota looks great!

Now let’s look at how homeownership rates broken down by county. You will notice that the highest homeownership rates are in out-state Minnesota and the lowest rates in the counties which make up the Twin Cities metropolitan area–outlined in purple.

Also taken from FRED

Since the rural communities tend to be older, it will be no surprise that homeownership is also highest amongst the middle to late middle age population. The Millennials, until just recently, have taken lack of interest in homeownership. Whereas 77-80% of the Boomers or Silent generation live in their own home, only 43% of those under 35 years of age have chosen buy a home. Younger folks are more likely to be attracted to the metro area.

To review, the data shows that as a state we have a high homeownership rate. Overall Minnesotans are confident in their ability and desire to own real estate and pay relatively high (ranked 19th) property taxes. Homeowners trust the cities, counties, school districts and, (for a smaller portion) the state in the use of the funds to provide services. The youngest group of adults, however, are running well below this rate, but in line with the national average.

No tricks or mirrors so far.

But what about these headlines? Are they accurate? Racial inequality in Minneapolis is among the worst in the nation – The Washington Post, Homeownership gap plays a huge part in race inequities – StarTribune.com, Why Black Homeownership Lags Badly in Minneapolis – WSJ

Each article frames the data in the same way. Minnesota is a horrible place to live for African Americans as exemplified in the homeownership gap of 51%, which is the worst in the nation.

In the Minneapolis metro area, 77% of white residents own homes, compared with 25% of Black residents—a 52-percentage-point difference, larger than in any other major U.S. city, according to an analysis of census and survey data by the Minnesota State Demographic Center, a state agency.

WSJ

What’s interesting is the black population in Minnesota has increases by more than 36% in the past ten years.

Between 2010 and 2018, the fastest growing racial group in Minnesota was the Black or African American population, which grew by 36%, adding more than 96,500 people. Second fastest was the Asian population, which grew by 32%, adding 69,800 people, followed by the Hispanic or Latin(x) population, which grew by 24%, adding 59,000 people. (Black or African American and Asian race groups are that race “alone” and not Hispanic or Latin(x)).

Data by Topic: Age, Race & Ethnicity / MN State Demographic Center

So if things are so bad, why all the in-migration? Maybe there is a need to look at the numbers a little more closely. Consider the breakdown of Minnesotans by age. You will note that people of color skew strongly to Millennials or younger.

Homepage | MN Compass

So wouldn’t the proper framing be to compare Minnesota’s homeownership rates by age cohort? I don’t have access to the numbers by generation, nor the time a journalist could devote to such calculations, but it seems erroneous to ignore variance between the groups. It seems flat out wrong to calculate rates of ownerships for African Americans who simply don’t live in our state. It’s true, that even with such an adjustment, there is still a gap. The spread is in the 18% (43%-25%=18%) range instead of the noteworthy gap of 51%.

Perhaps it is useful to use the inflated figure in order to get people’s attention. I believe ownership is the answer to extending trust between citizens and all the public endeavors in a neighborhood. I’ve also devoted many hours of unpaid labor with that mission in mind. But there are negative outcomes from fooling with the numbers too.

They discredit the built up capital that hundreds of people have devoted to the cause in good faith.

The beauty of Math

The best thing about math is that it is reliable. Numbers don’t change, they don’t have nuance or inflated expectations. You can’t disappoint them. They make you think of Horton the Elephant with a little redirect, “they say what they mean and they mean what they say, numbers are faithful 100%.”

Some people find them inconvenient for that reason. They want to tell their own story and numbers get in the way. So there are all sorts of tricks to distort the numbers. Graphs that don’t start at zero, or graphics where the bars are enlarged, to imply an unsubstantiated claim. The number sits on its axis, seemingly blushing under its inflated image.

All the more reason to keep people thinking about math. I was just reviewing the statewide scores by public school district and the math scores have the greatest spread between neighborhoods. Yet I don’t think math talent divides out that way. God given gifts ignore social-economic concerns. We just don’t know how to tap that talent-yet.

But we do know a lot about mathematical relationships. There are theorems and proofs as ancient as the Greeks. Some of us who desire some concreteness in the world, find this comforting. And even if it is not your thing, the applications of their relationships have been leveraged to give us a life enhanced by science and technology.

This alone should garner respect from even those with aversions to numbers. And even when the numbers aren’t giving us the feedback we want, they will most likely represent the reality we need to hear.

Can it be more than just about coin?

Biden’s 1.9 trillion relief plan is a little too enormous for me to get my head around. The magnitude of federal numbers just makes my eyes blur over the page. There is no anchoring the size of these things to my everyday life.

But if I can’t talk about magnitude, I can talk about structure. The goal of the bill is to engage the US economy as well as shore up people’s unexpected and uncontrolled loss of income; to keep their lives right side instead of upside down (which subsequently causes an economic drag on their greater groups). And then to get them back to employment where income can be feathered back in to the economic apparatus.

I’m all in favor of transfers for the first part. They work efficiently.

But I think there is a missed opportunity in the second part. Engaging idle labor from folks who are not destitute nor in need of transfers is low hanging fruit. As explained in this post about The Crafter The Contributor and The Covid Tracker, there are high skilled individuals available to donate labor if they are enticed by the objective at hand.

There are successful national service programs like AmeriCorps and the National Guard. Would it be so hard to have a property repair civil service? Ask any builder about the shortage of construction workers. What about a write-off for plumbers and sheet-rockers and electricians who’d be willing to have an apprentice tag along to fix a faucet at the local homeless shelter, sheetrock in a storage room at the food shelf, or replace all the gym lights with LED fixtures at the community gym?

A money transfer won’t teach a trade, nor will it make a connection between a potential employer and up-coming employee.

Pop quote!

These are all matters of incremental trade-offs to find an optimal amount and kind of safety, in a world where being categorically safe is as impossible achieving 100 percent clean air or clean water. Incremental trade-offs are made all the time in individual market transactions, but it can be politically suicidal to oppose demands for more clean air, clean water or automobile safety. Therefore saying that the government can improve over the results of individual transactions in a free market is not the same as saying that it will in fact do so. Among the greatest external costs imposed in a society can be those imposed politically by legislators and officials who pay no costs whatever, while imposing billions of dollars in costs on others, in order to respond to political pressures from advocates of particular interests or ideologies.

Throw in your best guess! No cost to play and a grand prize awaits the winner. Hint. Extracted from a 2007 book where on the rear jacket cover the WSJ says, “Clear and concise…Among economists of the past thirty years, (your guess here) stands very proud indeed.”