'Poverty Figures May Be Wrong, Journalists May Have Misunderstood Census Data'

Recently, the U.S Census Bureau released a report that creates a new designation of “low income” in order to “better reflect the distribution of poverty in the US.” The Associated Press ran with a headline, “Census shows 1 in 2 people are poor or low-income,” and scores of other media outlets followed suit with equally dire ledes. In NJ, one outlet reported, “Census: Nearly half of Americans live in poverty,” while Russia Today reported that “Half of America is officially poor“:

“While it’s no surprise that nearly 50 million Americans live below the poverty line, new statistics from the US Census show that almost 100 million others are counted as low-income citizens, making half of the population of America officially poor.”

But analysts at the U.S. Census Bureau district office in Los Angeles are reporting today that perhaps journalists misunderstood. and over 300 online news reports simply got the story wrong.

KNBC / NBC in Los Angeles reports:

“You may have heard worried news reports that 50 percent of Americans had either fallen into poverty or are considered low income.

But while poverty in the United States is certainly an important issue, those figures appear to be wrong, perhaps based on a misunderstanding of the data by journalists who did not go back to the source to doublecheck their figures, said analysts at the U.S. Census Bureau district office in Los Angeles.

NBCLA worked with three data analysts at the Census Bureau to check the data, and the real figures do indeed appear to be quite different.

According to the latest Census data, about 49.9 million Americans – about 13.8 percent – are living below the poverty line. Another 53.8 million – about 18 percent – are considered low income because they earn less than twice the poverty level.

That’s a total of 31.8 percent, far lower than the dramatic figure of 50 percent that was included in more than 300 online news reports, and multiple TV news broadcasts, including Thursday’s “Today in LA.””

The blogs and social media were all aflurry yesterday and today over the numbers, many of them quick to blame Republicans for “half of America now being poor.” PoliticusUSA, for example, ran with the sexy headline, “The GOP’s Corporate Oligarchy Has Pushed Half Of America Into Poverty,” citing the census figures and reporting:

“Many Americans are not yet aware that Republicans have nearly destroyed the great middle class as well as the function of government through obstruction and perpetual preferential treatment for the oligarchs who really run this country. Political observers have known for at least a decade that the GOP intends on establishing an oligarchy to replace our representative democracy and now that nearly half of Americans are living at or near poverty, it is just a matter of time until the wealthiest 1% controls the government and all the wealth and the rest of the population are peasants.”

The PoliticusUSA blog further called The Heritage Foundation “vile folks” for suggesting that any solution to poverty has to focus on promoting self-sufficiency. I suppose the wise old proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” was lost on these geniuses.

Now, that’s not to say that poverty and unemployment aren’t real issues. The faltering economy is taking its toll on everyone across the country. Many Americans are struggling, in some cases at higher levels seen in a long time, and public assistance is not reaching the neediest in some key areas like Kansas City, Mo.; Nashville, Tenn.; Sacramento, Calif.; and Trenton, N.J., according to a survey conducted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

But the opportunity for discussion seems to have been largely lost on politics. Search on Twitter for relevant tweets and you’ll see just how many other similar blog postings were fueled by what now appears could be the result of “a misunderstanding of the data by journalists who did not go back to the source to double check their figures.” Let’s just say, it was not a good day for civil discourse on the Twitters.

At least one outlet had the good sense to recognize that something just didn’t seem right and did take the time and energy to check with the source directly. Thanks to KNBC / NBCLA for setting the record straight. Let’s see how many of yesterday’s outlets follow suit to correct their reports.

You can read KNBC / NBCLA’s full report here.


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