What the world needs

The cleaners have come, the cleaners have gone.  I had an interesting discussion with the Genesis, the cleaner’s daughter, who helps her Mom Inez. They have a family owned business.  Genesis, says she decided to put off higher education for a year and help her Mom. G says she and her brother intend to attend the Culinary Institute of New York next year when her brother finishes high school. Then she launches into how they plan to open a family owned restaurant. Oh I love family owned restaurants, I tell her.

‘I had hoped to become a social worker,’ says G, ‘but the government is scaling back on social work, so the job outlook is grim.’ G has been talking to her parents (sometimes Jose helps his wife with her cleaning business) about the future for kids in her generation. You can’t always do what you want to, she notes, sometimes you have to do what you must.

Inez, Jose, and their family are from Latin America originally. Jose speaks no English, but Inez and Genesis are fluent in English. G being second generation is absolutely American. Well, aren’t we all? I don’t know if Inez and Jose are legal, I don’t ask, but G is adamant that the country needs immigration reform. I agree.


As a Census Bureau expert on US citizenship and place of birth questions for a number of years, one of my responsibilities at the agency was to design what is known as the ‘foreign born stub’ in Census tables.  In 1990, I worked on the ancestry question, tables, and tabulation. In 2000, I worked on the foreign-born tables and tabulation. In 2000, I worked on the Hispanic Origin questions, tables and data review. I did this for all the US States and territories.

Before they were approved for publication, my table stubs cleared about 20 layers of bureaucracy including the State Department and Immigration Service. Assembling tables of data might seem an easy task, but nothing in government is ever easy. Census tables are political documents, so everyone including the House, Senate and White House had an interest. This is to say nothing about the interest from State and local government and non-government entities.

For example, take Myanmar, or Burma (or don’t). The State Department refused to accept the new name for Burma until it shed its autocratic regime. Ditto other places around the world. When the USSR broke up, we argued about Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. Are they in Europe? Are they in Asia?  What about Israel? Now if you have an opinion, don’t tell me, I really don’t care anymore.

The issue for statisticians is how do we produce information that is both reliable and valid. Also, we want information that is comparable over time. When countries keep changing their names and boundaries, it makes life difficult for the lowly statistician. And it isn’t only countries. Within the United States and other countries, counties and cities and towns adjust their boundaries. All the time, for ever and ever.  

And then there’s the issue of what is rural and what is urban, what is incorporated and what is not. Government money rides on incorporation. And take legislative areas or don’t. They cut across counties and drive everyone nuts and they change every Census.  Ditto zip codes and what the private sector calls “user defined areas.”

Years ago, when I began my “serious” career, I payed close attention to telephone geographic areas. I looked for correspondence between telephone areas (driven by technology and politics) and other political and statistical areas.  When most folks had land lines, it was easier to deal with this challenge. Even then, it was almost impossible, because the phone company (Bell) kept upgrading its equipment and the newer servers, were faster and faster computers, and handled larger and larger areas. And then the federal government had the bright idea it would bust up the Bell System. Duh!!


I looked at a photo of E. B. White’s typewriter yesterday, and thought to myself, everything including what to do with your life was easier back then. Sometimes technology isn’t fun unless you are a retired senior with a keyboard and a blog.

I tell my granddaughters, it doesn’t matter what you do, you will end up working with computers and confused people.


On another note, my granddaughter and Doppelganger Amelia texted me yesterday that the UVA graduate school has accepted her. She will start her M.A. in mathematics in the fall. You go girl!! The world needs more math teachers.





15 thoughts on “What the world needs

  1. Congratulations to Amelia! I love hearing that women are succeeding in the math and science areas. It hadn’t occurred to me what a huge problem it was about the change of names and geographical boundaries. Wow!


  2. Despite all the statistics in the world the little guy has a very small chance of getting ahead in this money-driven world that we live in. I am reminded of the company’s that get shut down and then just change names and start all over again !


    • Some little guys do quite well. Luck and ‘who you know’ drive most success, however. I didn’t know anyone, I just had lots of luck and studied very hard to earn degrees that paid off. Even now, I am not what most would consider wealthy, but we have all our needs met.


  3. I just had success posting on a Word Press blog elsewhere, so thought it was worth trying to see if a comment would go through here since I previously had problems posting on some WP sites including this one, finally giving up.
    Enjoyed reading your recap of some of the complications to putting together statistics. Like so many things whose results might seem somewhat simple to compile, nothing is simple even under the best circumstances.
    We Gringos have ceased to be the majority in California. Next year Hispanics will be in the majority. Laughingly I could say Mexico is finally getting California back which was pretty much stolen from generations of Mexicans long ago through some paper shuffling..


  4. Statistics leave me singularly cold. I know they are necessary, I know we need people who count things and categorise them but it could never be me. You have a far more methodical brain than I ever had.

    As for your maths graduate Amelia, attagirl Well done.


  5. Congrats to Amelia. What does she plan to do with a Master’s in math? My BIL graduated with a Bachelor’s in math from MIT, and my daughter Maria has one in math from UH. Neither has a Master’s, but have full time careers, one in the software biz and the other in secondary education.


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