You don't have street cred if you can't do the math

Lost in Seattle Weekly's dustup with Real Change were a few easy-to-calculate facts.
Lost in Seattle Weekly's dustup with Real Change were a few easy-to-calculate facts.

The first we learned that Seattle Weekly was taking a hard look at Real Change – the non-profit newspaper by, about, and in support of the homeless – was from Tim Harris, the founder and executive director. Tim's accustomed to pretty glowing coverage, and he heard Seattle Weekly was sniffing for dirt. So he went off on them on his personal blog (you'll have to pardon his french, or not) before the article was even published in Seattle Weekly. This sort of prescient spin is not usually recommended. In one of its blogs, Seattle Weekly fired back, still before an article was even published, talking about how an article hadn't even been published and they were already getting letters to the editor about how bad the article that hadn't been published was. Pretty amusing. So then the article is published, about how an unknown number of Real Change street vendors aren't actually homeless though many people assume they are. It's balanced and informative. We'll never know how Harris' preemptive spin helped shape the article – there's no way it didn't. If I was the editor, I'd have made extra damn sure there weren't any problems with it, that it was factually ironclad and fair. But there was a hole in the article that I don't think would have gotten by me. No one did the math, or at least no one shared any math with readers. Harris didn't, either. Seattle Weekly counted the number of words in Harris' blog blast and reported that in the story about Real Change, but it didn't report the numbers that really matter. How can you have an intelligent conversation about whether people are making too much money – that's ultimately what this is about – when you don't know how much they're making? Let's do the math! Take the case of Seller Joe. Every week, he sells exactly 500 copies of Real Change for $1 each. He's in their elite 300 Club. He has few peers. Harris claims there are only a handful of vendors who are this successful. And how successful Seller Joe is! Five hundred papers times 65 cents (his profit after buying the papers from Real Change) is $325. But since he gets to keep his same spot because of his success and sees the same people every week, let's allow for quite a few really nice folks over-paying and particularly good sales weeks and call it $400 a week profit. Now let's say that Seller Joe sells 52 weeks a year, no vacation. (He works hard for his money.) That's an annual income of $20,800. The poverty level for a single person, as defined in a Seattle Post-Intelligencer special report two years ago, was $18,620. So Seller Joe is making $2,180 more than poverty level. (Taxes? He don't need to pay no stinkin' taxes.) There you have it. Seller Joe's not even officially poor. Although admittedly many Real Change vendors probably are poor, in that they don't sell as many paper as he. This is the sort of factual information that can help people make up their own minds.


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