AP, Covering Latest Government Report, Hides the Obama Era's Poverty Rise, Household Income Decline

September 16th, 2015 5:21 PM

From its "Don't read this story, it's boring" headline to its obfuscating content, today's coverage at the Associated Press, aka the Administration's Press, of the Census Bureau's 2014 report on income and poverty in the United States was all about ensuring that readers know as little as possible about the declining incomes and disheartening increases in officially-defined poverty seen during the Obama administration.

I'll focus on just two of the many shortcomings in Jesse J. Holland's AP report.

Holland told us that the poverty rate, which remained stuck at 14.8 percent in 2014, came down a bit in 2013, "the first such drop since 2006" — but said nothing about what the rate was then, or how it went significantly higher shortly after that. In discussing real median household income, he noted that it dropped by a "statistically insignificant" $800 last year, but failed to tell readers that the current level remains far below where it was before the arrival of what I have for seven years called the Pelosi-Obama-Reid economy in late spring 2008.

Here are excerpts from Holland's writeup (saved here for future reference, fair use and discussion purposes; bolds are mine):


(Note: Not "about" the same, "just about" the same. Message to readers: This isn't worth your time. — Ed.)

The wallets of America's middle class and poorest aren't seeing any extra money, the U.S. Census reported Wednesday, a financial stagnation experts say may be fueling political dissent this campaign season.

The Census Bureau, in its annual look at poverty and income in the United States, said both the country's median income and poverty rate were statistically unchanged in 2014 from the previous year.

Median income - the point where half of the households have income below it and half have income above it - showed no statistically significant change, despite the small drop to $53,700 in 2014 from 2013's $54,500. Median income is a broad measure of the economic health of the middle class.

The poverty rate also showed no statistically significant change. In 2014, the poverty rate in the United States was 14.8 percent, which was the same as in 2013. The poverty rate had dropped in 2013 from 15 percent in 2012, the first such drop since 2006.

... Census officials said they weren't surprised by the flat numbers. "It's not unusual for it not to go down two years in a row," said Trudi J. Renwick, chief of the Poverty Statistics Branch in the bureau's Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division.

The White House focused on the fact that some of the numbers increased, though census officials noted the change was not significant. ...

... "Our current approach to fighting poverty, though well-intended, is failing too many Americans," said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican. "This disappointing data, five years into an economic recovery, underscores the need for a new effort to modernize our country's safety net programs."

That's quite enough.

Here are the facts Holland overlooked. First, here's a long-term look at the poverty rate (graphs presented in this post have been adapted from Census Bureau's official large-PDF report for presentation purposes):


The overall poverty rate stayed between 12 percent and 13 percent between 2002 and 2007, went up a bit during 2008, the second year of Democrats' control of the House and Senate, and shot up during the next two years. Since then, unlike what we've seen during other post-recession periods, the poverty rate has not meaningfully declined for five years (counting 2015, given that no one has any reason to believe that the situation has improved this year).

Jesse Holland, apparently more interested in keeping his readers in the dark than informing them, did not disclose any of this.

As to real median income (i.e., adjusted for inflation), the news isn't any better:


As seen in a related table here, overall real median income peaked in 1999, got back to within 1 percent of that peak in 2007, cratered during the next several years, and has since stagnated. This year's "statistically insignificant" decline of $800 places this metric a galling 6.5 percent below the 2007 level.

Again, the AP's Holland decided that readers would only care about what has happened in the past year, with no historical context.

Holland went further, letting a spokesman for a liberal think tank — at least he labeled it as such, which often doesn't happen — to act as if the income decline is a 15-year trend, which it isn't:

Lawrence Mishel, president and CEO of the liberal Economic Policy Institute ... (said), "Anyone wondering why people in this country are feeling so ornery need look no further than this report," Mishel said. "Wages have been broadly stagnant for a dozen years and median household income peaked in 1999."

Given what's in the graph above and the related table, that's obviously agenda-driven cherry-picking. The 2007 level, $496 below the 1999 peak, is probably not different in a "statistically significant" sense. The three-year steep decline since 2007, followed by several years of stagnation, is the far more noteworthy and relevant trend.

Mr. Mishel may not like it, but there's no reason to doubt that this decline and stagnation have occurred precisely because the Obama administration and the 2007-2010 Democratic Congresses did the kinds of things he and his group still think would work. They haven't worked for eight years, and there's no reason to believe that they're all of a sudden going to start working now.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.