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About Those “Soaring” Income Levels




Some days we grow weary of our “contrarian” role in the marketplace of ideas.  Seriously … it would be nice to wake up one day and discover that our political leaders were suddenly telling us the truth.  Oh, and that the truth was the American economy was once again firing on all cylinders.

Alas, that is not the world in which we live … on either front … and hasn’t been for some time.

Last week, for example, we reported on record gains in U.S. income levels … a surprisingly strong data point given the anemic expansion of the broader economy over the last few months/ years.

And while we did mention that these gains failed to take into account the current sluggishness of the U.S. economy – or recent dips in consumer sentiment – our hope was that the data was legitimate.

Looks like it wasn’t …

According to analysts at Market Research Foundation (MRF), U.S. Census surveyors have been modifying their data collection methods in recent years – manufacturing a little “presto change-o” with regard to these particular numbers.

The tweaking began in 2013 and was fully-phased in a year later – right around the time income levels began to rise from their recessionary trough.

“Beginning in 2013, Census surveys began using ‘income ranges’ as a follow-up when respondents either declined to answer questions about how much money they made (or didn’t know the answer to the question),” MRF researchers noted.  “Additionally, Census surveyors were instructed to “collect the value of assets that generate income if the respondent is unsure of the income generated.”

MRF isn’t alone in its assessment.

“Census moved the goal posts,” John Crudele wrote for The New York Post, adding that the agency “changed the questions and the methods in calculating household income.”

Yeah … so in other words this is more “fake it till we make it” economic data from our government – which is exactly what we feared when these numbers were first released.

Again … we don’t like being bearers of bad news.  If for no other reason, people don’t like to hear it.  Like Eddie Vedder sang, we wish we were messengers “and all the news was good.”

It’s seriously tiresome being the voice that always says “hey wait a minute …”

Of course when government keeps rigging things …

Nonetheless, in the immortal words of TP Tidwell from the movie Jerry Maguire, we have “a commitment to the truth.”  And the truth in this case is that last year’s reported income gains appear to have benefited from what the Census itself admits were “redesigned income questions.”

(Banner image via iStock)