SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (News4Utah) – A recent report by USA Today listed Salt Lake City as the 49th worst place in the country to live. It’s not the first time Utah has made a “best” or “worst” list. Statisticians note that people need to look beyond the headlines to see what the actual numbers show.
Pam Perlich is a Demographic Researcher at Kem Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah. It’s an organization which analyzes data on economic and demographic issues. She notes some of these reports are hard to take at face value.
“We have to get into the details of where did the data come from, who constructed them, and what was their purpose,” said Perlich.
Perlich points to two reports which showed Salt Lake City had some of the worst nightlife, and Daggett County being the best place for single women.
The bar report ranked cities on the number of bars and restaurants per capita. Although the area went far into the suburbs where many families live.
“Of course we’re going to show up not having many bars per capita because we have lots of children,” said Perlich.
The report for single women compared male to female ratios of the population. It also counted the prison population in the area.
Perlich said even positive reports need to be taken with a grain of salt. For example, Utahns tend to have bigger families. When teens in the home work, it can skew household income numbers to look bigger than they are.
The USA Today report cited high violent crime rate and high housing costs as one of the reasons behind the ranking. Although it did note the strong jobs and economic numbers in the area.
Perlich said in many cases the stats are correct, but it’s important to look at which ones are being used. She notes that some reports might have a bias or an agenda.
Another recent report by Reviews.com showed Salt Lake City is #1 for property crime per 1,000 people. It’s also on a page that’s reviewing home security systems. The report also used FBI crime stats instead of those from the Department of Public Safety.
DPS doesn’t do any analysis of the annual crime stats, but their report is public for anyone to look at or use. Mandy Biesinger of BCI which keeps the stats notes that often times their reports have more stats.
“Since we’re closer in proximity to somebody at the local agencies we do have more updated crime information. We also publish our data later in the year than the FBI does,” said Biesinger.
Experts claim that consumers have to do a better job of looking into these types of reports.
“We have to be very careful consumers of data in general. Industries and metrics and rankings in particular,” said Perlich.