Friday, December 20, 2013

Lies, damned lies, and the Taub Report (Dov Lipman on education)

Last week, MK Dov Lipman addressed the Knesset (video with English subtitles below), announcing that the recently released "Taub Report" ("State of the Nation Report – Society, Economy and Policy 2013") proves that there is no discrimination against Chareidim in the workforce (i.e., in finding jobs), and urging every MK to read the report.

Lipman is a well-educated guy. He has a masters degree from Johns Hopkins university, which, as the poet would say, is not too shabby. However, he does not seem to understand statistics and how to properly interpret them. (An alternatively explanation is that he does understand them, but he's purposely trying to pull off a deceit, a notion I see no reason to even entertain.)

To make his point, he cites the following from the report:
  • Among Chareidi men, 71% of those who hold an academic degree find a job, compared with 34% of those without a degree.
  • Among Hareidi women, the respective stats are 76% vs. 50%.
  • Salaries for Chareidi men with a degree are 80% higher than those for Chareidi men without a degree. (Although Lipman does not mention it, the report lists a similar statistic for women.)
  • A couple wherein both spouses have a degree earn 157% more than a couple wherein neither spouse has a degree.
  • Of men aged 25-43, fewer than 8% have a degree (800 of the 10,000 men sampled).
  • Only 5% have earned a matriculation certificate (which is necessary to enter college)
From this, he concludes that the only way for Chareidim to end the cycle of poverty in their communities is through higher education.

For some reason, his conclusion (education is the key!) had nothing to do with his opening statement about what the statistics show (no discrimination!). Besides that rhetorical oversight, his presentation was unconvincing in several ways.

First of all, the obvious - it's a bit odd for a member of Yesh Atid to preach the importance of higher education, when their own leader never earned a matriculation certificate, much less earned an academic degree. There's the argument (valid, in my opinion) that not everyone needs an academic degree to compete financially, and that Lapid is one of the outliers, but it's still odd to see one of his "employees" preaching on the importance of education. This isn't totally fair, but, very often, the medium is the message. As a member of a party built on a single personality, Lipman carries the baggage of that personality, in particular when he's acting in an official capacity, such as addressing the Knesset as an MK. Minor point, and a matter of perspective, but one I felt worth noting, though not one which is worth a lot of argument. There's a lot of room to disagree on this point.

Secondly, Lipman does not make his point at all. He claims that the report shows that there is no discrimination against Chareidim in the workforce. In order for numbers to show this, there need to be statistics regarding non-Chareidim. 71% of Chareidi men with degrees find jobs? OK - how does that compare with the general population? If it's north of 90% for non-Chareidim, well, there very well may be discrimination. Even without the relevant data on non-Chareidim, 29% unemployment among Chareidi men who hold academic degrees does not seem like terrifically good odds. Perhaps something's amiss.

What's more, Lipman does not provide a full analysis of the statistics. A closer look reveals that there's reason to believe that the real picture is even more anemic than 71% employment rate among Chareidi college grads. In order to see why, we have to look a bit at the methodology behind the numbers. In describing who the authors considered to be Chareidi, the authors concede an accuracy of 98.5% in identifying Chareidim, in particular that their sample of about 10,000 Chareidi men includes 150 people (1.5%) who are not Chareidi. Considering the low rate of academic degrees among Chareidi men, it's likely that most of these 150 non-Chareidim included in the study were among the 800 Chareidi men who were identified as having an academic degree. Recall that of the 800 men with an academic degree, 568 (71%) found work. Up to 150 of these may not be Chareidi, leaving as few as 418 Chareidi degree-holders with jobs, out of at least 650 (800 identified, minus up to 150 which are not Chareidi). This comes to only 64%. Of course, this is only the worst case scenario, so the true rate of employment among Chareidi men with academic degrees is somewhere in the range of 64-71%, probably in the low end of the range. This is not encouraging. In fact, barring any other data (and Lipman didn't share any), having over a 30% chance of not being able to find a job, even with an academic degree, points to discrimination in the workforce.

Ignoring the rhetorical misstep of the thesis and conclusion having nothing to do with each other, there's a third problem. Lipman concludes that the numbers show that education will help break the cycle of poverty. This is simply not true. The numbers show a correlation between education and employment status (which includes income). However, it does not show a causation, i.e., that level of education was the cause the improvement in employment status. Those seeking higher education, especially those coming from a community where higher education is exceedingly rare, are a self-selected group. It is likely that they have characteristics which make them more likely to both earn a degree and seek gainful employment (probably that their desire to earn a decent living prompted them to seek higher education). The fact is that Chareidim were not randomly chosen to attend college, any conclusion as to its effect are pure speculation.

While education may very well play a role in the employment status of Chareidim, and may prove an important ingredient in breaking the cycle of poverty. Lipman has shown that he is committed to changing the Chareidi community for the better, and believes that education is the way to do it. Having supporting statistics is always comforting. However, the Taub Report doesn't offer as much support as he believes it does.

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