Fighting Statistical Illiteracy

Employers Rehiring… Really?

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This story is a good example of a zombie statistic: a statistic that is inflated by sucking out its meaning. 

Employers Begin Rehiring the Laid Off  By: Joseph Pisani,  CNBC News Associate
Twenty-six percent of employers who had layoffs [terminations] in the past year reported that their company was planning to bring some of them back, according to a new CareerBuilder/USA Today survey of 2,924 hiring managers.

Look at the sneaky qualifiers that suck out the meaning so the 26% statistic makes a very vague claim:

  • First, “to bring some of them back”.   No number — just some.
  • Second, “planning to bring some of them back”.   No commitment, just planning
  • Third, a missing qualifier: no time interval stated.  The study says “in the next two years” — a long time.

Bottom line:  74% of employers who had terminations in the past year have no plans to rehire anyone anytime in the next 2 years.   This is the complement of the 26%.  The 74% claim is true; it has a bigger number and it makes a definite claim —  but it doesn’t sound as optimistic.

Whoever constructed the 26% statistic did almost everything possible to get a big number.  But in getting a big number, they made the claim so nebulous that it is almost lifeless.  It is little better than saying “Some employers are thinking about rehiring some workers sometime.”   

If there is an award for creating a zombie statistic — for inflating a statistic by sucking out its meaning, the authors of this study deserve a nomination.    Thanks to Marc Isaacson for spotting this one.

Written by schield

October 23rd, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Posted in 2Assembly