blank.gif (51 bytes) Second Thoughts
Some Statistics to Keep
You Awake Tonight

by Ralph Heller

hances are you’ve never heard of "NARA"—the National Archives and Records Administration—which opened on Nov. 8, 1935 in a grand neoclassical building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., just down the block from the White House. It was established on the naive premise that government could keep its most vital records intact indefinitely.

By 1993 NARA had outgrown its original home and built a new headquarters for itself in College Park, Maryland and now occupies the third largest of all federal buildings. But this "Archives II" is already nearing the limits of its storage capacity. Despite confident predictions of computer enthusiasts 20 years ago about mankind’s new "paperless existence," government agencies continue to print out more and more paper every year.

A rough inventory of the flotsam and jetsam now in NARA’s possession includes 4 billion pieces of paper, 9.4 million photographs, 338,029 films and videos, 2,648,918 maps and charts, 3 million engineering and architectural plans, and 9 million aerial photographs. Just the Supreme Court’s records of the last 60 years occupy the equivalent of a half city block of shelves.

Somewhere in NARA, no doubt, is your last income tax appeal, possibly filed between between one of John Adams’ letters to his "beloved Abigail" and a transcript of Linda Tripp’s phone conversations with Monica. The raw inventory numbers are startling—but also mostly meaningless, you’ll note. Needed is somebody at NARA to steer you to the information you’re seeking. Especially intriguing would be whatever comparative statistics are on file. Does Clinton really have five times more White House staff attorneys than Harry Truman had?

One of modern journalism’s most serious lapses is its disinterest in statistics, many of which convey information far more dramatically and persuasively than a dozen lugubrious paragraphs. Recently NPRI reported that in 1998 the prices of existing homes in Nevada appreciated by only 2.2 percent, ranking Nevada 49th among the states. Only home owners in Hawaii and the District of Columbia fared worse than Nevada home owners, and meanwhile, existing home prices in neighboring California were soaring upward by 8.5 percent.

Now comes additional information from the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight revealing that for the last quarter of 1998—October through December—the market value of existing homes in Nevada actually dropped slightly.

Other recently released statistics are no less unsettling. Nevada ranked only 48th among the states for growth in per capita income in 1998, for example. Still other statistics tend to elicit frowns and bemused smiles simultaneously. According to the Federal Trade Commission only a "couple of states" rank lower than Nevada for accurate bar code scanners in grocery stores. To have passed, the test scanners needed 98 percent accuracy, but scanners in Nevada stores were found to be only 42 percent accurate.

Now comes a report from the Center for Economic Justice indicating that credit insurance is much more costly in Nevada than in most states. It seems that the most unreasonable rates are in Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Alaska and Nevada, while the states with the cheapest rates are all east of the Mississippi, including New York.

Especially intriguing is a report from Nevada’s own Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation showing the five fastest growing occupations in Nevada: 

1. Child care workers up 14.8%
2. Computer engineers up 14.0%
3. Systems analysts up 12.9%
4. Private detectives up 12.8%
5. Physical therapists up 11.8%

So there you have it. The value of your home dropped late last year, the growth in your annual income was disappointing, you were probably cheated by an inaccurate bar scanner the last time you checked out of a grocery store, your credit insurance is a rip-off, and your spouse has probably hired a detective to keep an eye on you.

And if that isn’t enough to make you weep, Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa asked the Nevada Legislature to pay annual membership dues in the Nevada Bar Association for 184 attorneys on the state payroll, including 134 in her own office. It seems that her own office is suffering from a 27 percent turnover rate and she thinks the rate might be lowered if taxpayers picked up the $350 tab for each thimblerigger on the public payroll.

This suggests, of course, that with somewhat lower salaries and fewer benefits for attorneys on the public payroll we might achieve a more desirable turnover rate. Does anybody want to try for 100 percent? NJ

Ralph Heller (rh@npri.org) is senior consulting editor of Nevada Journal.


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