Population determines proportion

In case you haven’t noticed yet, the past few years have seen national US media repeatedly comparing California and Texas, often in ways that are misleading if not outright wrongheaded. One of the key facts in the most recent incarnation of this is this one fact about internal immigration as referenced by Dan Balz in the Washington Post this way:

Nearly a quarter of the new, domestic immigrants to Texas between 2006 and 2012 came from California, which was by far the largest contributor of any state in the nation. Last year, according to the Census Bureau, 63,000 people moved from California to Texas, while 43,000 in Texas moved to California. […] In a recent telephone interview, [president and chief executive of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Richard] Fisher exclaimed that Texas is “a jobs machine” and noted that Texas has seen an influx of migration from other states — the biggest being from California. “People vote with their feet, and right now they’re voting to come here — from New York and Michigan and California and so on,” he said. “Those are the facts, and one can apply value judgments.”

The reality that more people are moving from California to Texas than from Texas to California is an established fact, which is directly tied to political arguments over which set of the two state’s policies are more popular or leading to more stable and successful populations. But is there possibly any other explanation for the discrepancy between how many people are leaving California, compared to Texas besides that offered by Fisher?

Like, say, the comparative size of those populations? As long as we’re citing the census, let’s note what their most recent 2013 estimates for the number of people living in those states were. California supposedly had about 38 million to Texas’ just shy of 26.5 million. California is the equivalent, in terms of just the number of residents, of about 145 percent of Texas. The number of Californians moving to Texas is 146 percent of the number of Texans moving to California. The population flows are virtually identical to the existing discrepancy between those two states in terms of population. Proportionately, the same percentage of Californians are moving to Texas as Texans are moving to California – the only reason that’s not immediately recognizable is because of how much larger California’s population is.

The way that claim appears to have jumped from the mouth of one of the people interviewed for this story to the actual reporting in the Washington Post without even a cursory exploration of alternative explanations should give you pause, especially if you regularly read that paper. This is precisely what being a stenographer to power looks like – the failure to even conceive that a source could be wrong about or misleading in their use of a statistic.

(See here for an interactive version. The color indicates the state more people are leaving, with the size adjusted to reflect the number of them.)

Chris Walker presented the same sort of proportion-blind data, in an interactive graphic for Vizynary. I suggest checking it out, while keeping in mind that not all of the states shown have equal populations, so the direction of the flow isn’t necessarily an indication of something other than differing populations. It seems notable, however, that combined, Oregon and Washington are receiving more than ten thousand more migrants from California than Texas. In terms of the exist populations that those former Californians are joining, however, that’s a more significant change to the population that’s literally out of proportion. What hasn’t been asked is whether that reflects an interest in gaining the greater degree of economic security, particularly that found in Oregon where gas station laws create a more constant demand for basic service jobs and the lack of a sales tax helps create an impression of lower costs of living.

But discussing that wouldn’t fit a narrative of arguing in favor of business deregulation, now would it?

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One thought on “Population determines proportion

  1. […] years of negative predictions about the Californian economy and expectations that economic alternatives capable of mitigating […]

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