NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 27, 2004

The Washington Post devoted half the space on page one above the fold (Sept. 20) to an article supporting presidential candidate John Kerry's charge that Republican policies are impoverishing the middle class, says Bruce Bartlett.

Looking at the Post story, we can see many ways in which the data have been manipulated to give it a liberal spin, says Bartlett:

  • For example, a graph shows that the percentage of households earning between $35,000 and $49,999 (in 2003 dollars) has fallen sharply from 22.3 percent in 1967 to just 15 percent in 2003-- seemingly powerful evidence for the Post/Kerry thesis that the middle class is disappearing.

The Post data is accurate, says Bartlett, but it leaves 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," explains Bartlett.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, "Playing The Class War Card In The Washington Post," National Center for Policy Analysis, September 27, 2004.


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