Links for May 16th

  • Discovery Channel: Mike Rowe Senate Testimony
    The host of "Dirty Jobs" provided an important argument to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation about why our education system needs to emphasize skilled trades. College is not for everybody. Way too many kids are going to college—it doesn't make economic sense, for them or for our society. More kids need to learn skilled trades.
  • Wikipedia: Benford’s law
    Numbers are not evenly distributed. Not theoretical numbers, but the real numbers that describe the world around us: stream flow rates, bank account numbers, atomic weights, street addresses, etc. Numbers start with 1 about 30% of the time. (e.g. 11, 103, 1539) They start with 2 about 18% of the time, 3 about 12%, and so on, until 9, which leads of numbers 4.6% of the time. This is described by Benford's law, which has become useful for forensic analysis of any numbers (such as accounting data), to see if it's real, or somebody has just made the numbers up. The less the adherence to Benford's law, the greater the cause for suspicion.
  • New York Times: Wealthy Donors to G.O.P. Are Providing Bulk of Money in Gay Marriage Push
    The push to legalize gay marriage in New York is being bankrolled by Republicans. You might need to re-read that sentence to comprehend that—a double take is a reasonable response. Although some Democrats may regard this as bad news—we've basically got a lock on the gay vote—I think it's great news. My gay conservative friends will surely welcome it. This shouldn't be a partisan issue, and I hope this is a sign that transformation is in progress.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

10 replies on “Links for May 16th”

  1. I disagree with you in part; the level of college graduates in the US is entirely appropriate and quite likely still too low. 29.5% of Americans over age 25 have at least a bachelors; that’s hardly excessive. The issue isn’t the ~30% of Americans who have gone to college and earned degrees, or even if it’s 35% or 40% – it’s the ~70% of Americans who don’t have sufficient other options in areas like skilled trades. More or less people going to college doesn’t fix that problem.

    ( for data)

  2. I just have a minute before I have to leave for work, so I can’t pull any numbers just now, but I encourage you to look not at the percentage of Americans over age 25, which is just an overall average, but instead gradated by age. The number you’re looking it is for all living Americans over 25, which doesn’t demonstrate the increase in percentage of people with college graduates. (None of my grandparents had a college degree, both of my parents did, and now I do.) The arrangement is much like one of the factors that led to the housing bubble—a national concept that homeownership is essential for everybody, the result being that people who should not have owned homes, did. That ended poorly for a lot of people. Likewise, we’re in the midst of a higher education bubble (nowhere moreso than in masters programs), and we’ve got hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of people with degrees that are of no economic value to them, despite what they have been assured.

  3. My own family mirrors yours exactly in regards to educational attainment. Here are your numbers, courtesy of

    25-29 with bachelors or higher: 31.7%
    30-34 with bachelors or higher: 34.1%
    35-39 with bachelors or higher: 34.2%
    40-44 with bachelors or higher: 32.0%
    45-49 with bachelors or higher: 29.7%
    50-54 with bachelors or higher: 29.2%
    55-59 with bachelors or higher: 30.6%
    60-64 with bachelors or higher: 33.0%
    65-69 with bachelors or higher: 26.8%
    70-74 with bachelors or higher: 23.2%
    75+ with bachelors or higher: 19.2%

    If there’s anything statistically significant for people ages 65 and younger, I can’t see it. It would appear that the break where people started getting bachelors degrees en masse happened between our grandparents and our parents, but hasn’t particularly accelerated between our parents and our own generation.

    I’m on board with the masters (and whoa, especially doctorate/law/professional) bubble idea as people go back to school in times of economic recession where they can’t get a suitable job for their education level anyways, but less so the undergrad. There are *plenty* of non-college educated folks who would benefit from skilled trade training, which in turn would benefit so many. It’s just not out there. That’s Mike Rowe’s testimony, and I’m on board with that.

    (one might, depending on how one defines the term, consider some flavors of IT to be a form of skilled trade. Skilled trade need not necessarily involve a cow or a furnace, methinks.)

  4. All I know is that I should have become an auto mechanic. ^!@&*) @%(!#*&! Grrrr… stupid cars.

    There’s gold in them there hills, er, Hondas.

  5. Michael-But a lot more for the guy who owns the repair shop than for the people who actually do the work there.
    More people are going to college because they don’t have an alternative that makes economic sense for them.
    When I grew up in Richmond, one side of my family worked factory jobs at Philip Morris and the other half worked factory jobs at DuPont. Those jobs are either gone or pay much less — in light of the cost of living — than they used to. My dad drove a forklift for a living and was able to buy a house in the suburbs. That’s all changed. For the worse.

  6. This is an interesting discussion. There’s a butcher who owns an abbatoir in the Valley who is looking for an apprentice to eventually take over & buy the business. The business is booming with the interest in local meats, etc., and the guy is just ready to retire after 50 years in the business. A young guy with a strong back and strong work ethic can make a name and a good living all without a college degree. Problem is, he can’t find anyone interested in putting in the time learning the trade so he’d be comfortable in selling the business.

  7. Regarding wealthy GOP’ers bankrolling gay marriage legalization, the cynic in me thinks: Wow, NY legalizing gay marriage would really energize the social conservative base for 2012!

  8. The percentage of the population with college degrees by age interests me less than the number of people (or percentage of population—either way) who enroll in college. Part of my concern is the rate of non-completion. The Census reports that there were 7.9M students enrolled in four- and two-year degree programs in 1970, and 21.5M enrolled in 2009. The population of the U.S. was 203M in 1970 and 305M in 2009, so adjusting for population growth (and ignoring that the growth may not be represented proportionally among 18–21-year-olds) we see that there has been a really enormous rate of growth in college attendance. If there had not been an increase, we would expect 11.9M students. (305 / 203 = 1.5, and 1.5 * 7.9 = 11.9.) Instead, we have 9.6M surplus students, or almost twice as many college students as forty years ago, proportional to the population.

    Just look at the requirements for all manner of menial jobs. Lots of entry-level positions want applicants college degrees. And lots of positions that would have required a college degree twenty years ago now demand a master’s. Not because they’re necessary, but because there’s such a glut of people with degrees that the pool can be winnowed down by simply setting the bar higher. Why not get somebody with a master’s?

    Steve, the sort of positions that you’re describing are exactly what Mike Rose isn’t proposing. Working on an assembly line isn’t skilled labor. It’s not easy labor, by any means, but neither apprenticeship nor significant training is necessary to perform such a job. I’m interested in seeing more kids studying to become electricians, plumbers, mechanics, butchers (good example, Stormy), farmers, stonemasons, weavers, programmers, etc. A man who can repair an engine will have work for the rest of his life. A man with an undergraduate degree in English has all of the skills necessary to wait tables.

  9. Oh sure, lots more folks are beginning programs and not finishing them. The online college movement is probably contributing to that – a kid who has no real ambition for a college degree but takes a couple online courses to satisfy relatives gets counted in that census enrollment tally. But that’s a separate problem than “too many kids are going to college” – it’s “we’re sending kids off to college with insufficient skill sets and expectations to actually finish college, and not providing sufficient training alternatives to college.” That’s a big big problem. My point is, even if all those additional kids who are attending college magically graduated, we’re still only looking at that 25-29 with bachelors number go to 35-36% – and I just don’t see that as particularly problematic.

    A side conversation is that the growth in college attendance in the census study that you referenced seems to skew female, and how that disproportionately may affect ideations of those folks morphing into historically male-dominated fields like stonemasonry, butchers, mechanics, plumbers, electricians, programming, and so forth.

  10. I believe Benford’s Law came into play last year, when Research2000 polling was found to be faking at least some of it’s numbers in polls for political clients.

    One of the things mentioned was that the frequency of certain numbers and which numbers followed others made it impossible for the data to have been obtained any other way than making it up.

    Very interesting, and the subject of at least one lawsuit I am aware of where R2000 was sued for fraud or some such. Not sure if that suit has been resolved yet.

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