It All Adds Up
When I first began my internship at the St. Lawrence County Planning Office, I was tasked with researching the demographic information of the county to help the office gain a better picture of what factors most affected county residents. Day in and day out I searched for demographic indicators on American Fact Finder, looking up total population counts (St. Lawrence County has 112,015 residents), poverty percentages (they’re higher than the state average), average annual household incomes (they haven’t increased relative to increased living expenses), and unemployment rates (again, much higher than the state average). I compiled chart after chart, eager that one indicator, that one piece of information that would clue me in to why St. Lawrence County suffers economically, why the number of substandard houses is so high, or why people leave the area. Disclaimer: I’m still looking for the answer but if you have it, please let me know!
The next step was to analyze the numbers and see if trends could be teased out of them; that might indicate areas of high need or problems that could be fixed in order to improve residents’ lives. And some trends did appear. One town is experiencing disproportionate amounts of overcrowding, another high percentages of single-family households, and still another with rent burdens nearing 50%. As I became more comfortable with all of this data, I began to realize that the numbers did tell a story. As Shakuntala Devi once said, “Numbers have life; they’re not just symbols on paper.”
Here are two of those stories. The number of homeless people who earned some income told me that these were people who were trying to work and support themselves; they just happened to be down on their luck. The number of people who apply for housing rehabilitation do want to improve their homes, they just lack the resources to do so independently.
As I wrap up my final weeks at the Planning Office, I know that I will leave there having made a difference in future funding applications. My report will be used to help secure funds that continue to help improve St. Lawrence County for the better, one house at a time. All of the numbers and charts, and figures, on my computer screen do tell a story – St. Lawrence County is improving, a little bit at a time.
In addition to the impact my internship has had on the Planning Office, it has had the biggest impact on me. I know that right now I don’t want to pursue graduate school right away. I like working in the public service sector and even though I’m not saving lives on a daily basis, I am making a difference in people’s lives indirectly. I know that I want to continue down this path because I want to continue finding the stories numbers can tell.