Once Again, the Plural of Anecdote Is Not Data

It’s a good time to reiterate one of the CBP’s favorite aphorisms: The plural of anecdote is not data. Many individuals who provided public testimony at Monday’s hearing on Enterprise Zones (EZs) and Redevelopment Agencies (RDAs) touted anecdotal stories of jobs created in their communities, which they attributed to EZs or RDAs. As compelling as these stories may be, they don’t constitute data and therefore, as two Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) researchers pointed out in an opinion piece over the weekend, cannot tell us anything about the effectiveness of these programs.

In large part, the problem with anecdotal numbers of jobs created is that these figures don’t represent net job gains. Individuals may observe that a new store brought 50 jobs to their community, but what they don’t see as readily is that the store simply relocated from a neighboring jurisdiction, taking 50 jobs with it, or that the new store caused a nearby competitor to go out of business, leaving 50 of their neighbors unemployed. In other words, what appeared to be evidence of job growth was actually just job relocation: On net, no new jobs were created.

Indeed, this is what the data on EZs and RDAs show. Rigorous, independent research finds that, on average, California’s EZs do not create new jobs, and the somewhat more limited research on redevelopment suggests that RDAs simply shift jobs from one location to another with no net gain to the state. As policymakers consider options to close California’s massive budget gap, we encourage them to base their decisions on the full picture provided by this research, keeping in mind that even 1,000 anecdotes don’t constitute data.

— Alissa Anderson