Example: Engage Numeracy Skills to Analyze TV News

Is it a crisis or good news?

The dinner time TV news often features stories that include quantitative information.  A person with strong numeracy skills may find those stories interesting enough to engage their analytical and interpretive abilities.

Here is one example.

The news story began with the headline, “Home Buying Crisis.”  The tease was, “dramatic rise in families renting rather than buying homes.” The news anchor said something like, “As compared to last year, rental units were up 10% while the number of purchased homes dropped by almost 5000.”

The numerically precise language gave the story an initial patina of credibility. But that tarnished immediately when the announcer added, “There are now 16, 550 rentals and 3,102,300 purchased homes in the city.” Then came the human-interest “face-on-the-story” interview with a renter who was having trouble putting together a down payment to buy a home.

A person with strong numeracy skills may analyze those numbers and then wonder whether the interpretative word “Crisis” really should apply.

Let’s walk through the analysis first. To make it easier, let’s use round numbers.

  • Assume we start with 15,000 rentals.
  • A 10% jump in rentals would add 1500.  That gives us 16,500 rentals, close enough to the 16,550 mentioned in the story.  If that is all we knew, then it might be reasonable to regard the growth as a newsworthy “jump.”
  • But, look at the roughly 3,000,000 purchased homes. 16,500 rentals is a tiny percentage of all the homes in the city. If those numbers are accurate, then 99.5% of homes are purchased and only .5% are rentals.  A reduction of 6000 from over 3,000,000 would be a 2% drop, and the story said that the actual reduction was less than 6000.  Is a 2% drop a “crisis”?

The news story included the interview with the renter who wanted to become a buyer. If anything, that interview is evidence that home ownership remains a goal.  The increase in rentals could have been interpreted as good news. People who want to live in the city, but who cannot afford to buy, now have more opportunities because more rentals are available. Maybe the news should have interviewed someone who needed to find a place closer to work or to the kids’ school and was happy to have found one of those 1500 additional rentals.

People with strong numeracy skills apply their critical thinking to solve quantitative reasoning problems.

Being better able to analyze and interpret quantitative information, they can draw more accurate conclusions.  They can explain how they reached those judgments.  And, considering what the quantitative information tells us, they can better evaluate the claims others may make.

Insight Assessment critical thinking skills testing tools for students and employees provide measures of core components of good thinking including analysis, inference, evaluation, induction, deduction, numeracy and Overall Reasoning.

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