Fun With Political Numbers

Politicians have become masters at using numbers and statistics to score political points and they count on the public to not pay attention closely enough to catch them when they play lose and fast.

Perfect example of this can be found in the Telegraph story found HERE.

The statement

The median income of a middle-class family went down $2,100 from 2001-07.

- Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday, Oct. 20, speaking at Plymouth State University.

Our ruling

Biden said the median income of the middle class dropped by $2,100 from 2001-07, and the numbers check out. We rate Biden's claim True.

There is one word in that above statement that should jump right out to anyone paying attention.  Do you see it?


Go back to elementary school math and recall what the difference is now between median and average.

The definition as stated on wiki is:

a median is described as the numerical value separating the higher half of a sample

For example, if a < b < c, then the median of the list {abc} is b, and, if a < b < c < d, then the median of the list {abcd} is the mean of b and c; i.e., it is (b + c)/2.

In other words if you had 3 salaries of $20,000, $40,000 and $50,000 the median would be $40,000 even though their average would be $36,667.

Likewise if you had $25,000, $37,000, $38,000, $50,000 and $75,000 the median now drops to $38,000 but the average went up to $45,000.

Biden did tell the truth that the median income went down however that statement without any further details is like trying to claim that pointing out a car has worn down used tires is enough of a claim to judge the over all condition or a car.  It might be a classic 1963 Vett that had been kept in a barn for 40 years and has only 40k original miles and the original tires.

For starters Biden's statement only pertains to the middle class.  What definition is used to define who the middle class actually is?

One definition I read defines it as $35,000 to $100,000.  Another as $26,000 as the low end for women and $40,000 for men.  Also many breakdown's by class include a "working class" between the poor and middle class.  Is Biden including them as part of the middle class?

If a large group moved from the lower class and working class into the middle class while everyone in the middle class stayed the same, the median would drop because you'd have more people on the lower end shifting the middle number down the scale but in reality if more people were now part of the middle class where fewer were part of the lower, that would be a good thing despite the misleading drop of the median amount for the middle class.

People need to pay close enough attention to pick up on things like this and realize they aren't seeing the full picture.  Unfortunately too few do.