Thursday, September 22, 2011

Statistically Speaking

I peaked in fourth grade. Don’t be so smug—you probably did, too.

Handwriting legibility peaks around fourth grade, according to professor Steven Graham of Vanderbilt University, speaking to CBS Sunday Morning last Sunday.

I have already testified to that reality in previous blogs. I received an A in penmanship in fourth grade, much to the consternation of my parents. They were so astonished, based on their daily review of my handwriting, that my father prodded my mother to complain to my teacher about the grade she gave me. Her defense—on the papers she graded I had painstakingly penned in proper cursive form, thus confirming that even at the tender age of nine I knew how to game the system.

Proper penmanship, said Graham, helps convey not just your ideas but your status. “People form judgment about the credibility of your ideas based upon your handwriting,” he said.

If that’s true, about one in five leave us clueless, as some 20% of those polled by CBS Sunday Morning said they don’t write by hand, compared to 45% who write “all the time” and 35% who write “sometimes.” Presumably, those 20% compose directly onto their computers, smart phones, iPads or devices. Count me among the 35%.

Also count me among the 16% who rated their penmanship as “poor.” Eighteen percent labeled their writing “excellent,” 37% as “good,” and 28% “acceptable.” Who knows what the remaining 1% think.

As long as we’re talking surveys, according to the Tax Policy Center, 47% of American households don’t pay any federal taxes. Of those “tax units,” 50% earn under $20,000 a year. Another 22% are senior citizens, 15% are low income families with children, and 13% fall into the “other” category.

Included as “other” are 444,000 tax units in the top 20% of all income earners.

Here’s where political debate gets interesting. President Obama wants to tax these high income earners as part of his budget balancing plan. Republicans say they want to “expand the tax base,” meaning they want to tax the near 41 million who pay nothing because they earn less than $20,000 a year. No, The Republicans are not trying to get blood from a stone. They want them to get jobs so they’ll earn enough money to be taxed.

But here’s the rub. Those with the money are not spending it to create jobs, or jobs that provide a living wage. At least they haven’t for the last decade when the elite earners of our society have benefited while the working class and middle class have seen their earning power erode. Speedily resolving this conflict will determine how long our economy remains in the doldrums, because it’s not only taxes that are not being collected. Without jobs, or jobs that pay enough to leave some discretionary spending, Americans will not ring up retail sales or pay for services such as dry cleaning which together account for two-thirds of our gross domestic product.

In a nation as rich as ours—and we still are a rich nation—it is shameful that, according to the federal government, hunger affects one out of every five households with children.

When I dropped off my monthly food donation at the Ecumenical Emergency Food Pantry of White Plains this morning, I was told contributions are down but the need is up. That reality was underscored by a report on tonight’s CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley. Households unable to meet their food needs at some time during the year have increased by one-third from 2006, before the recession, to 2010. The 2010 figure today hit 14.5%, compared to 10.9%.

“Hunger is at an all-time high...There’s nothing worse than a hungry child,” said Hannah Hawkins, founder of Washington, D.C.’s, Children of Mine Youth Center.