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The [Thursday] Papers

The point of an anecdotal lead is to give a human, or specific, example that people can relate to as a way to explain an overall trend without starting your story with a bunch of cold, dry stats.

The anecdotal lead so often goes astray, however, when instead of the describing the typical, it describes an extreme, an outlier. Or it describes something that has nothing to do with the data at hand at all.

Such as this from the Tribune's "Chicago Area Leads U.S. In Population Loss, Sees Drop For 2nd Year In A Row:"

Patrice Bedford had never questioned raising her baby in Chicago.

But on a springtime stroll during the first trimester of her pregnancy last year, a heightened sense of smell - piqued by pungent neighborhood odors - made her view the city differently.

The city's expensive, she said. Public schools face an unfolding financial crisis and the violence is "terrifying and frightening" to a parent-to-be. It didn't take long for Bedford, 28, to realize it was time to pack up and leave her Roscoe Village home.

She, her husband and their son, now 6 weeks old, are preparing to move to Denver this summer.

"We've been to Colorado before and visited so many times, and just remembered how astonishingly clean and how fresh the air was and easy to breathe," said Bedford, who has lived in Chicago for five years. "I felt like I couldn't breathe anymore in the city."

There is no data as far as I can tell to support the notion that the Chicago area is experiencing dramatic population losses because of the way it smells or the lack of freshness in the air.

As far as the other reasons glanced over - the high cost of living, the ongoing crisis of CPS, crime - the data is unclear.

"Of the country's 10 largest cities, the Chicago metropolitan statistical area was the only one to drop in population between 2015 and 2016. The region, defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, includes the city and suburbs and extends into Wisconsin and Indiana," the Trib reports.

"Census data released Thursday suggests the root of the problem is in the city of Chicago and Cook County."

Fair enough. But this caught my eye:

"By most estimates, the Chicago area's population will continue to decline in the coming years. Over the past year, the Tribune surveyed dozens of former residents who've packed up in recent years and they cited a variety of reasons: high taxes, the state budget stalemate, crime, the unemployment rate and weather."

I'm not sure how many former residents equal "dozens" - why not just say the number? - but that's hardly statistically sound. And there's nothing we can do about the weather. (I'd also like to know where these former residents moved to, in order to compare taxes, crime and unemployment rates.)

Also, this:

"Experts say the pattern goes beyond just the Chicago region. For the third consecutive year, Illinois lost more residents than any other state in 2016, losing 37,508 people, according to U.S. census data released in December.

"Nearly all the cities that lost population in 2016 are located in the Midwest or northern parts of the country. Those cities, which are in smaller metropolitan areas, include St. Louis, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh.

"There's this big regional thing going on. It's not about what's wrong with Chicago - if anything, it's what's wrong with the Midwest or the Northeast," said Rob Paral, a Chicago-based demographer.

So it's not Chicago's ongoing problems with schools, crime and smelly air? Not according to the experts, just according to former residents with a wide range of reasons for leaving.

I'm not denying the trend of population loss around here, obviously. I'm just trying to understand the reasons beyond my own intuition.

Maybe, then, this buried paragraph is important:

"Chicagoans are heading for the Sun Belt states - those with the country's warmest climates, like Texas, Arizona and Florida. During the years after the economic recession of the mid-2000s, migration to those states paused but started up again because warmer states in the South and West have affordable housing and better job opportunities."

Now, perhaps, we're getting somewhere - somewhere which makes the anecdotal lead used here even less relevant. Consider this from Bedford: "I don't even have a job yet or a place to live."

So the Trib reports that the migration to the Sun Belt is due to affordable housing and job opportunities, yet their seemingly affluent anecdotal matriarch doesn't even have a job or home where she's going.

It gets worse:

"The exodus to warmer states is led by the Chicago region's black population, in search of stable incomes and safe neighborhoods. More than 9,000 black residents left Cook County between 2014 and 2015.

"No group is leaving the county as much as they are," Paral said. "The loss of African-Americans is really a big factor."

This has been true for at least a decade, as I understand it, maybe longer.

And yet, the Bedfords? Though you can never really know, from their photo my guess is they consider themselves white.


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Posted on March 23, 2017

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