Clarity, please, when reporting economic stats

The Telegraph-Journal is much better at reporting economic data than the Times & Transcript. In fact, in my opinion, the T&T is very selective and only reports economic stories that are positive (there are a few exceptions).

But even in the case of the TJ, I find the reporters, in many cases, do not report the most basic element of the stories.

Consider a story earlier in the week on bankruptcies in New Brunswick. The TJ story reported that bankruptcies are down this month compared to last month; that for the year they are up strongly, that compared to Canada we are better in the past month but worse for the year. The story looked at growth rates in other provinces, etc. etc. etc.

But nowhere in the story was the basic piece of information that is critical to understanding bankruptcies or any other economic statistic – the number of bankruptcies in New Brunswick compared to the other provinces adjusted for population (i.e. per 10,000 people or some such thing). When you do this analysis, you see that NB’s bankruptcies in July were only slightly higher than the national average. Then you have a context in which to set the growth or decline on a monthly basis.

Bankruptcies per 10,000 persons (July 2005)
T.-N./Nfld. 41.2
N.-É./N.S. 34.7
I.P.-É./P.E.I. 20.3
N.-B./N.B. 21.6
Québec 22.8
Ontario 20.5
Manitoba 20.8
Saskatchewan 18.3
Alberta 19.6
C.-B./B.C. 16.4
Canada 21.1

Then I read Khalid Malik’s story, “Region shows steady growth”, and got the same feeling. Khalid discusses GDP growth, housing starts/growth, and a host of other stats but I still walked away from the article without context:

  • What is our GDP per capita? Then tell me how it is changing up/down.
  • What is the housing starts/building permit figures adjusted for population? Then tell me how it is changing up/down. For example, building permits in Newfoundland were up 63% but if the base number was crappy, the level of building permits might still be very low – but we would never know from reading this article.

Other recent examples of this voodoo economic reporting including:

*Talking about strong growth in housing starts, one story read, New Brunswick leads country in housing starts growth. They forgot to mention that the number of housing starts per capita was second worst in Canada.

*New Brunswick sees strong increase in employment rate. They forgot to mention we have the second worst employment rate in Canada.

*New Brunswick’s unemployment rate drops to lowest level since 1976. Yeah, but you forgot to mention that it is still the second worst in Canada.

Give us context, please so we can decide.

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