NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 1, 2004

An Aug. 28 New York Times story entitled, "Economic Squeeze Plaguing Middle-Class Families," misrepresents recently released Census Bureau data. The most egregious error in the article is the clear implication that the percentage of those defined as the "middle class" has fallen because many of those who used to be considered middle class have become poor. This is totally untrue. In fact, the ranks of the poor have fallen along with those of the middle class, says Bruce Bartlett.

Using the Times' characterization of any household with an income below $25,000 in 2003 as being poor, what do the data show?

  • We see that this group fell from 33.1 percent of the population in 1980 to 29 percent in 2002.
  • Looking at the data from the other end, we see that the percentage of those making more than $75,000 has risen from 14.9 percent of the population in 1980 to 26.1 percent in 2003.

In other words, the ranks of the poor and middle class have shrunk for one reason only --more of them are rich! How can it not be a good thing for society that fewer people are now making low incomes and more are making high incomes, asks Bartlett?

In short, the Times has played fast and loose with the numbers in order to turn good news into bad news. The fact that the article also repeatedly uses the term middle class "squeeze," which the Kerry campaign frequently hypes, is further evidence that the report is seriously biased, says Bartlett.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, "The Truth Behind The Middle-Class Squeeze," National Center for Policy Analysis, September 1, 2004.


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