• Thrive Detroit

Let’s Solve the Inequality

Inequality.  It’s the word printed on placards and signs, heralded by protesters and pundits, and contemplated by educators and economists.  The phrase, ‘We are the 99%’ has been dubbed as the year’s top slogan as the Occupy Movement continues to gain momentum and develop iterations such as the Occupy Homes Movement.  ‘We are the 99%’ is, of course, a simple way to state a complex issue. An equal distribution of the wealth of the 1% would not make all things equal.  It is widely known that solving the inequality that exists nationwide—and even worldwide—requires a multivariate solution.

While doing some research on economic inequality I ran across more than a few references to mathematical inequalities.  I’m no Math Whiz, but I do recall that a series of steps are necessary to solve or satisfy an inequality.   For example; when solving for say, [x, y, z] replacing these unknown variables with the correct series of numbers will solve the equation and render it a true statement.   The steps to get to this point require performing the correct operations in the correct order.  Needless to say, I found myself making some obvious analogies and asking:  What solutions do we need in order to make the most important statements true?  You’ll see what I mean.

Several months ago, I highlighted the 47% functional illiteracy rate in Detroit and the need to find ways to reduce the ranks of those challenged with illiteracy.  It has been difficult for me, and many of you, to come to grips with this statistic.  Somehow it just doesn’t jibe with our experiences.  Well, I was relieved to find out that 47% is not the number that makes the statement regarding illiteracy in Detroit true; yet it has been broadcast and published in mainstream media for quite some time.  Those of us who live, love, and work in Detroit (including Detroiters who live beyond the city limits) will breathe a sigh of relief.  But, there are those who find it easier to, and even want to, believe that almost half of Detroit’s citizens are functionally illiterate.

The reality is that the source of the statistic is a 1998 report by the National Institute for Literacy (NIL).  The NIL report includes data from a 1993 Federal National Adult Literacy (NAAL) survey [http://nces.ed.gov/naal/].  After reading the specifics related to how the numbers were derived and realizing how much vital information was omitted, I began questioning the motives of those touting 1993 data as “new”…enough said there.  Check out the Data Driven Detroit Blog [http://bit.ly/vSULlC] and the Club De Cordeliers Blog [http://bit.ly/sITKzc]. They both do a great job of explaining some of the source information surrounding the statistics.

Literacy is just one of the inequality issues that we must be about solving.  In light of this information, the goal of making sure that every Detroit citizen is functionally literate is probably much closer than we think.  More than likely, the overwhelming 47% is substantially lower.  Whatever the percentage, individuals and organizations are working hard to address illiteracy and have been instrumental in reducing the true number of functionally illiterate citizens.  They understand that zero is the only acceptable percentage.

Inequality is a fact of life; but if we’re going to solve the economic and social inequalities that exist in our city, we cannot do so with propaganda and old arguments.  Instead, we can use the proper steps to get the right solutions to the variables that will make our statements true. And the truth is always a good place to start.

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