The reality of distorting data in “The myth of the disappearing middle class”

The myth of the disappearing middle class – The Washington Post.

Reading this article might have given someone the impression the middle class has been doing just splendid in recent decades and no one should be complaining about the pre-Depression-like levels of income inequality in the U.S.  But a closer look at how this data is presented might tell a completely different story.  In fact, it might even suggest a reality that would look like the complete opposite of what the author, Ron Haskins, is trying to argue.

Initially, some figures with little supportive data are given that show the top 20 percent did better than everyone else since 1979 but everyone did well overall (a 50 percent gain in income for the top 20, a 40 percent gain for most others).  Then comes a common point made by people trying to fend off this debate: “Households in the top 1 percent pay about 40 percent of federal income taxes, and the top 10 percent pays nearly 75 percent.”  This then gets turned into social services.  Let’s examine this nugget of info a little further.

A quick Google search finds this article from Haskins’ employer which states the top 1 percent paid 15 percent of the taxes in 1979.  They now account for 40 percent.  This increase in their share has occurred despite the fact their tax rate, as everyone knows, has dropped dramatically.  So less money is coming out of their checks for taxes yet they are accounting for much more of the total dollars going to the government.  Long story short, these people did not do well.  They did really, really, really (times a lot) well.

Then comes the blatantly obvious distortion of data.  Haskins essentially states two married people, with no out-of-wedlock children, and both having jobs have only a 2 percent chance of living a life of poverty.  He adds, “if the same share of adults were married today as in 1970, poverty would be reduced by more than a quarter.”  Let’s examine a couple of aspects here a little closer.

Picking 1970 is, of course, somewhat brilliant but really a sneaky and almost dishonest option.  This year would be toward the beginning of a larger portion of the female population entering the workforce.  Which would mean two things relating to this data.  One, families in the past were able to be middle class with likely only one person (typically the male) in the household having a job.  Now, both need to have jobs in order to ensure they stave off poverty.  In other words, someone in 1970 might say, “My spouse can work but it isn’t necessary for us to stay out of poverty.”  Nowadays, “My spouse has to work for us to stay out of poverty.”

The second factor here is that women no longer need to get married to have someone financially take care of their needs as they would have in the past because of workplace discrimination.  A woman can choose to fend for herself more easily now than before so the option to live the single life is more available for both sexes instead of just one.  Perfect equality has not been reached but that is for another discussion.  Haskins is letting his personal views get in the way of his argument here stating people must be married to avoid the bottom of the economic barrel.  Marriage should be mostly irrelevant in a discussion of how workers are faring from the 1970s to now.

One last distortion is the following: “Consider also that children of parents whose income was in the bottom 20 percent have a 45 percent chance of remaining in the bottom themselves. But if they get a college degree, they cut those odds by nearly two-thirds and quadruple their chances of earning more than $100,000.”  A final closer look.

To begin, no statistic is given as to what the chances are of earning $100k without a degree so the quadruple effect could be not as bountiful as it sounds.  Suppose this stat is say, 1 percent.  The college degree now ups it to 4 percent.  Doesn’t sound quite as good when stated that way and I’m guessing that’s why the stat was omitted.  In fact, I would assume it might even be less than 1 percent which would make showing the number even less impressive.

The two-thirds cut in the chances someone in the bottom stays there when they get a college degree sounds great but hold on.  That still gives a roughly 20 percent chance of staying in the bottom even after getting the education that is supposed to get you out.  Shouldn’t that be far less?  Shouldn’t cracking the middle class with that degree hanging on the wall be almost a given?  Unless, of course, working on your own without getting married doesn’t get you out of the bottom.

I wonder what the chances are for kids of people in the top 1 percent to end up in the bottom 20 with only a high school diploma and no college education?  I’m guessing far lower than 20 percent.  But then again, asking that question is class warfare and we aren’t allowed to have that in our countries’ economic debates.

Mega Millions and Mega Status

As of right now, tonight’s drawing for the Mega Millions Lottery jackpot will be for $640,000,000.

I have watched people flocking into their local “convenient” stores and gas stations on the news all day buying one or more of these tickets at a dollar apiece.

And the reporters keep asking those in line the same question: “What will you do if you win?”

But my question is who needs over a half billion dollars in personal fortune?

Is it for mansions and SUVs? Or is it even for private islands and Gulfstream Jets?

What forms of conspicuous consumption will quench your thirst for social status?

Syria Violence Continues Despite Peace Plan

The UN Security Council approved peace plan proposed by Kofi Annan, which was accepted by Assad on Tuesday, does not slow military violence in protest hotbeds.

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AIG Tax Loophole

A good editorial from four of the Congressional Oversight Panel members established by the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 alerting us to how a tax loophole is costing taxpayers billions and AIG Execs gain millions.

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Spanish General Strike Participants Battle Police

Spanish protesters engaging in a general strike clash with police as they fight for their rights as workers.

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We Deserve This

Watching the debate unfold surrounding the Supreme Court’s hearing on the Affordable Care Act has been both disappointing and laughable.  Pundits from both sides have cried foul as it is clear (Surprise! Surprise!) that essentially eight of the nine justices had already made up their minds on the issue before it had been brought to their courtroom.  It’s laughable to hear these arguments, particularly since we brought this on ourselves.

Whenever it is time to appoint a new justice to the highest bench in the land everyone knows what they want.  We want our guy/gal.  We want the person that will make decisions in the interest of our party’s values and nothing else.  We don’t want someone who might just be seen as a moderate and who’s judgement might swing either way (presumably in the way of an objective, Constitutionally-sound decision) on critical cases.  And when we get what we want, we get the horrible arrangement we have now.  One party appoints a clearly partisan judge to replace a less partisan one.  The other party reacts by appointing someone even more partisan on their side.  And so on and so on until we don’t even need to hear the decisions of eight of the justices.  We only pay attention to one.  At the moment, that judge is Justice Kennedy.

It now rests on one man’s shoulders to decide the fate of the health care reform.  One man voting for 300 million.  A tough job no doubt but we know that is what the Supreme Court is for whether their decisions are good or bad.  Not that nine justices voting for that many people sounds much better but we got what we wanted in our partisan judges and now pundits have been taking turns firing shots at the opposing justices as if the ones they support aren’t equally guilty of seemingly biased decision-making.  If a president were to take the high road and actually appoint an apparently unbiased justice, these pundits would scold their own guy sitting in the Oval Office.  Therefore, the anger being shown now is just humorous and I actually question how genuine it is.  They are aware of how this came about and I can only assume most of these partisans just say the provocative thing because it’s expected.

This case has also been disappointing to watch by throwing the reality in our faces that we only have one swing vote on the court any time a controversial issue with partisan undertones comes before them.  One swing vote.  Just in case you aren’t counting, we should have nine of those on the Supreme Court.  People have argued Elena Kagan should recuse herself from this case because a previous meeting might have influenced her and helped make her decision before the case was brought to the court.  I have an idea.  Maybe we should have every justice not named Kennedy recuse themselves so this gets done quicker.  Think of how much time could be saved by just having him ask the questions he wants answers to on cases like this and only hearing his decision.  Three days of questions could have been dwindled down to a half day with the rest of the time devoted to dragging out other issues for no reason.  We could speed up democracy!  I’m kidding, of course, but you get the point.

All that said, is it even fair for pundits to criticize the judges they don’t agree with at this point when they were a big part of creating this situation?  Judge for yourself.  But another question looms stemming from all this that might be more important than the eventual decision handed down by this court on the individual mandate.  And that question is this: What happens when Kennedy retires?  Will we even get one “swing vote” anymore?  Will we forever be doomed to 5-4 decisions in favor of only one party?  Will each party takes turns ramming cases through the Supreme Court to switch decisions on controversial issues every time the majority on the court changes?  To avoid this awful scenario, we can only hope for something we were promised by the last candidate voted into the Oval Office: change.

Ignatius Editorial on U.N. Transition Plan for Syria

An editorial by The Posts David Ignatius arguing for the Syrian revolutionaries to accept a U.N. plan to “transition” Assad out of power. Ignatius claims that this would avoid any sectarian violence like that which occurred in Iraq.

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The Latest on Syria

A Post article on the latest in the situation in Syria including a possible U.N. led peace plan, a Turkey-Iran summit, and comments from Sect. Clinton.

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Sectarian Violence Among Syrian Revolt

According to Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Assad’s government is supporting sectarian violence amidst the revolt.

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Afghanistan War Losing More Support Than in November

According to a NYT/CBS News Poll a rising trend in the disapproval of the Afghanistan war increased dramatically, and across party lines, according to the data.

Read Here.