What’s In A Number?


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Blog 21 – M. Hines

It’s a transition time here in the Sierra Nevadas but this year, an unusual one. Spring has been stalled by a perpetual tug of war with a winter that wont relent and move forward. Snow has dusted each morning for the past several weeks, only to melt away in the valleys as the day progresses. It lingers across the mountain tops presenting a beautiful picture, but the icy winds that pass across the peaks are not conducive or enticing for outdoor activities.

Our water tables have improved greatly from this season’s abundance of snow and rain. The birds have returned –en mass. In fact, our property could probably qualify as a bird sanctuary; not a bad thing providing a constant supply of free entertainment. The weeks have been alternating between clear and sunny to cloudy overcast with rain or snow–temperature depending. Still, spring is trying to press its advantage. The evergreens remain steadfast, but our other trees struggle in a confused state between awakening and hibernation as each passing storm defies the calendar. Anxiety surrounds this year’s fruit production–will we even have any? There is always the worry of a warming and blossoming followed by a late frost killing all possibility.

A spurt of good, followed by a loss of hope. Nature seems to parallel the recent news reports concerning lay offs. The acceleration of hiring following our Covid shut down seems to have reached its peak for some industries while other sectors are crying for workers; presenting a similar start-stop situation our orchard is experiencing. The ‘Insult to injury’ though that the news coverage creates is in its use of percentages. Deceptive in presentation, small numbers mask the significant impact . Percentages themselves are not to blame– numbers are numbers–but how they’re presented (the lens they’ re viewed through) is where distortions occur. Numbers alone cannot portray the destructive human toll.

A recent report quoted a corporate representative saying, “These layoffs amount to ‘only‘ 3% of our workforce.” 3%  seems like  an “eh” in the world of percentages .  It doesn’t have the lure of 10% which doesn’t have the grandeur of 25%.  And 50% seems to outshine all until you come across 75% or the elusive 100% that we all hope for. In a world where truth is under attack, even the absolutes of mathematics are not immune. Numbers alone can’t be relied upon to provide a complete picture; especially when that picture involves human lives.

Aside from taking umbrage at the spokesperson’s use of the word, “Only”, the measurement of 3% fired my mind up further to contemplate this amount by making some comparisons.

FINANCE: 3% is not a bad percentage when it comes to cash back offers for credit card purchases. It would be an unheard of interest rate to charge the same cardholders–much better than the national average amount of 20.35% [CreditCards.com]

3% would also be a ‘decent’ rate for Home Mortgages (better than 6.88% average rate we are seeing currently [Bankrate.com]

Many people and businesses would be ‘over the moon’ to be in a 3% income tax bracket. “The OECD reported that the U.S. “tax wedge” for the average single worker was 28.4% in 2021. Assuming a median yearly salary of $53,924, a tax wedge of 28.4% works out to about $15,314.42, meaning the average worker contributed that much to the federal government.” https://www.thebalancemoney.com/what-the-average-american-pays-in-taxes-4768594

FOOD: 3% of a slice of pie or cake would be a thin slice. This might be good for dieters, but I can only imagine the baker’s expression when asking for a 3% sized slice, and 3% of your daily vitamin intake would not be a great choice in snacks when pursuing a healthy diet.

WEATHER: A 3% chance of rain, snow, tornadoes, etc. would not create significant worry.

THE LOTTERY: 3% of 1 million ($1,000,000.00) would get you $30,000.00. That could come in very handy.

MEDICAL: A 3% efficacy rate for a vaccine would not be advantageous. However, if you were to hear your chance of contracting a virus was 3%, it would not be too alarming.

But, using percentages to describe layoffs, dehumanizes the reality and impact of a seemingly small number.

3% seems next to nothing; spurring familiar responses of:

“Oh, that’s not too bad…”

“It’s just a market correction…”

“We’re just trimming the fat…”

“It won’t affect many…”

The reality? For 2023 January, February, and March Job loss–so far / to date– is: 196,564; One Hundred, Ninety-Six Thousand, Five Hundred and Sixty-Four people. https://techcrunch.com/2023/03/27/tech-industry-layoffs/

Compared to the 331.9 Million people in the United States [US Census Bureau], many experts argue “that number is so low it seems almost insignificant…”

Unless you were one of those laid off.