Bruce Bartlett

In the pre-Internet age, people might have bought this argument, since they lacked any way of checking it.  But today, anyone with an Internet connection can log on to this address and find the facts for themselves: http://www.census.gov/prod/2004pubs/p60-226.pdf.

They will discover that the Post data are accurate, but leave out what is really important.  Over this same period, 1967 to 2003, the percentage of families making less than $35,000 (in 2003 dollars) also fell from 52.8 percent of households to just 40.9 percent.  In short, the ranks of the middle class could not have fallen because they became poor, as the Post implies, because the ranks of the poor also fell.

The truth is that poor and middle class households alike became better off, which increased the ranks of the ?rich? (those making over $49,999 in 2003 dollars in the Post?s view) as a share of the population.  In 1967, those with such an income constituted 24.9 percent of households.  By 2003 this had increased to 44.1 percent.  The inescapable conclusion is that the declining ranks of the middle class result from one thing only?more of them are now ?rich.?

In fairness, the Post presents a graph making this point, although there is nothing in the text of the article.  But it is constructed so as to make it appear that the rich have gained at the expense of the middle class, instead of explaining that many in the middle class are now rich by the Post?s definition.

The Post story plays fast and loose with the data in other ways as well.  For example, it notes that the top 20 percent of households had more than half of all income in 2001, as if this is the most recent data.  In fact, we have data from the Census Bureau for 2002 and 2003, which show that the top quintile?s share has fallen to under 50 percent in both years.  It?s a trivial point, but shows the extent to which the Post is trying hard to make things look worse than they really are.

Unfortunately, the Post has promised more articles on this same subject?this was just the first in a series.  We can only hope they get better, but I doubt it.


Bruce Bartlett

Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.

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