Numbers Matter: a Gamaliel Equity Index

Posted by: Gordon on 3/24/2014

Cynthia Owen Jarrold, M.Div., Gamaliel Federal Policy Coordinator revised this piece into a blog post from a recent training.

The book of Numbers is one of the last places that I would typically look for inspiration or direction when preparing a sermon. I suspect that is also true for most of my colleagues.

However, when I was asked to frame the national political landscape at a recent Gamaliel of Virginia training—and to do it wearing my “preacher” hat—I immediately thought of the first chapter of the book of Numbers:

  1. The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying:
  2. Take a census of the whole congregation of Israelites, in their clans, by ancestral houses, according to the number of names, every male individually;
  3. From twenty years old and upwards, everyone in Israel able to go to war. You and Aaron shall enroll them, company by company.
  4. A man from each tribe shall be with you, each man the head of his ancestral house.
  5. These are the names of the men who shall assist you . . . .

(vv. 1-5, NRSV)

This is the first census of the nation of Israel, and it is taken as they make preparations to depart the Sinai wilderness for what will turn out to be 39 additional years of wandering before they enter the Promised Land.  The text continues by designating a census-taker from each tribe of Israel . . . and Gamaliel is in the house. Gamaliel, the son Pedahzur, is the census-taker for the tribe of Manasseh. The chapter concludes with the final count (vv. 45-46, NRSV):

45. So the whole number of the Israelites, by their ancestral houses, from twenty years old and upwards, everyone able to go to war in Israel
 46. Their whole number was six hundred and three thousand five hundred and fifty.

Numbers matter!
God commanded the census, not so that Moses and Aaron could brag about the size of the tribes of Israel, but because the numbers indicated the level of their ability to protect themselves from enemies as they traveled to the Promised Land.

My husband and I took the first vacation of our marriage in March of 1984. I remember picking up a copy of Harper’s Magazine at the airport.  It has become a favorite of mine over the years—especially the monthly “Harper’s Index.”

The index is a collection of numbers that are particularly relevant at that moment in time—some elicit a chuckle, and some are sobering. I remember some of the more offbeat numbers from that first issue I purchased, such as how many alligator farms were in Florida at the time (2) and how many maggots USDA regulation allowed to be packed in a can of mushrooms (1.5 maximum). I also seem to recall some startling statistics about drinking and spring break. 

As an educator and a minister, I have fought constantly against this incessant need of folks to quantify the identity of people—How old are you? How many children do you have? How much money do you make? I would much rather focus on qualitative indicators like hopes and dreams and fears and challenges.

For me, these are the measure of the inner person, the basis for building deep relationships. But the index is a monthly reminder that numbers have their place—they matter. In preparation for the Gamaliel of Virginia event, I decided to create my own index, and so The Gamaliel Equity Index was born.

Gamaliel Equity Index – March 2014

  • 1.8.1964 – date that President Lyndon Johnson declared the War on Poverty
  • 40 – percent drop in poverty rate since 1960 as a result of programs like Medicaid and the Earned Income Tax Credit
  • 8.28.1963 – date of March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
  • 6.7 – US unemployment rate at end of 2013
  • 5.9 – the unemployment rate for white Americans at the end of 2013
  • 11.9 – the African-American unemployment rate at the end of December 2013
  • 2.2 – the number of African-Americans who are unemployed for every 1 white American who is unemployed, a rate that remains unchanged since the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
  • $7.35 – current federal minimum wage
  • $9,615 – the amount of money Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, made per hour in 2013
  • 8 million – the number of Americans who lost their jobs because of reckless speculation by Wall Street bankers
  • 6.25.2013 – date that the Supreme Court struck down the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act which required states previously demonstrating clear racial discrimination in the application of their voting laws to submit any proposed changes to voting or election to the U.S. Department of Justice for pre-approval
  • 9 – the number of preclearance states that passed restrictive voting laws in 2013
  • 29.3 – total percentage of African Americans, Latinos, and Hispanic Americans who make up the U.S. population
  • 300,000 to 2 million – the increase in the prison population during the 25-year period following the passage of Anti-Drug Abuse Act (1986 to 2011)
  • 60 – total percentage of African-Americans, Latinos, and Hispanic Americans who make up the U.S. prison population
  • $16.6 billion – the amount of transportation, infrastructure, and education money secured for local communities through the organizing work of Gamaliel affiliates between 2006 and 2011
  • 639,000 – number of jobs created with that funding
  • $21 billion – increased GNP resulting from that funding
Numbers matter! These numbers give us a clearer picture about whose values drive our economy and our public policy—they tell us who is in control and who is not. These numbers must drive our commitment to our values, to one another, to the work that we are doing and the power we are building.

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