“Over-interpretation and over-generalization
are especially common ethical problems. Small increases or decreases in
incidence or prevalence of health conditions occur all too commonly and can be
manipulated for specific purposes.”
- The American Public Health Association
Lighthouse of Oakland County issued its indefensible
report called Combating Poverty in Oakland County in April of 2014. On the first
reading, it became clear it was full of statistical errors and used sensational
Two Oakland County epidemiologists studied the
Lighthouse report then reviewed the American Community Survey from which
Lighthouse drew its data. From that assessment, Nicole Parker - with assistance
from Shane Bies - discovered many egregious errors. Both are Oakland County
Health Division epidemiologists who hold master’s degrees in public health with
a concentration in statistical analysis. They outline a few of the greater
errors in the two documents below.
Fact: Oakland Co. has the lowest poverty rate in
the tri-county area
Oakland County: 9889 per 100,000
residents live in poverty
Macomb County: 11,727 per 100,000
residents live in poverty
Wayne County (excluding Detroit): 14,223
per 100,000 residents live in poverty
Detroit: 37,953 per 100,000 residents
live in poverty
Oakland County budgeted nearly $33 million for Fiscal Year 2014 for programs that help individuals facing economic challenges. They include Community Health Promotion and Intervention Services, housing counseling services, Community & Home Improvement programs, and a variety of employment assistance programs to enable those facing tough times to find employment.
What was Lighthouse’s motive? To enhance fundraising.
After Lighthouse made its big splash in the news media, the next business day it
sent out an alarmist letter to its donors and stakeholders designed to tug at
the heartstrings. It begins “We have seen a seismic shift in Oakland County
poverty….” Read the shameful letter on the right.
The ethical and accurate use of data is imperative
when publishing and distributing reports to the community, especially when
intending to use that data for fundraising purposes.
It is interesting to note that when Lighthouse
initially issued its poverty report, it was freely available on its website for
all the public to see. Now, one must send in a name and email address to
receive a copy.
How Lighthouse spends donations
The Lighthouse of Oakland County spent a little more than 54 percent of its revenue (donations, grants and investment income) on executive and employee compensation, benefits, and related expenses in three years.
Lighthouse’s total revenue was $4,309,150 for Fiscal Years 2009-2011. Its executive and employee compensation, benefits and related expenses added up to $2,338,498.
One additional item of note, Lighthouse President/CEO John Ziraldo’s total compensation in FY2010 was $119,691. In FY2011, his total compensation jumped to $144,462. That is a $24,771 difference or over a 20 percent change in wages and benefits in one year.
One can see the evidence in Lighthouse’s 990 forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service below. FY2011 is the last year for which there is a public record.
“Now entering its fifth year of recovery, Oakland
County is leaving the 2008-09 recession firmly behind in its rearview mirror. After
bursting out of the recession with more than 65,000 new jobs over the past
three years, the Oakland economy will add nearly 43,000 jobs through
2016—11,000 jobs this year, 15,000 next year and 17,000 the year after, say
University of Michigan economists. And for the first time since 2003, Oakland's
unemployment rate will fall below the national average this year, dropping to 5
percent by 2016.”
- University of Michigan press release
During the Great Recession, poverty increased
everywhere. Oakland County certainly was not immune. In stark contrast to
Lighthouse’s report, Oakland County today is in full economic recovery and is leading
Michigan in job growth.
The University of Michigan released its three-year
(2014-2016) economic outlook for Oakland County in May of 2014. The news is
outstanding. The complete economic outlook press release and
report are below.
Economic Outlook Press Release
Economic Outlook Report 2014
If you agree that Lighthouse should be held
accountable for the errors in its poverty report and its its subsequent use to
boost donations, call Lighthouse CEO/President John Ziraldo at 248-920-6000 or
write its Board of Trustees at 46156 Woodward Avenue, P.O. Box 430508, Pontiac,