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Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Fudging the Numbers

In his stump speech, George W. Bush claims Americans' after-tax income is up 10 percent during his first term. FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan site run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, points out just how false this claim is:
[George W. Bush] says "Real after-tax incomes are up almost 10 percent since December of 2000," Clinton's last full month in office. That's from the Department of Commerce, a statistic  called "real disposable income." It refers to the total of all inflation-adjusted income earned by all persons, minus taxes.

Bush fails to mention that much of the increase is due to simple population growth.  Adjust it for that, and the per-capita growth is less than 6%.

And even that doesn't tell you who got the income. Roughly half of all personal income goes to the most affluent one-fifth of the population.

Typical families and households haven't seen such an increase. The Census Bureau's annual survey shows that inflation-adjusted income for the median household -- the midpoint -- fell by $1,535 in Bush's first 3 years, a decline of 3.4 percent.

FactCheck.org also addresses another issue: Bush's claim that unemployment now is lower than the average for the 1990's. This claim is true--when you include the years George W. Bush's father was in office, 1990, 1991, and 1992.
What Bush leaves out, of course, is that 5.4% is slightly worse than the average for the full eight years of Clinton's two terms, which was 5.2%. And not nearly as good as the under-4% rate reached in several months of Clinton's final year. Bush also says nothing about the fact that as of August,  the number of persons employed in payroll jobs was still 913,000 below what it was when Bush took office in 2001. At the current rate of growth it is almost certain that Democrats will be proven right about Bush being the first President since Hoover to suffer a net job loss over a full four-year term.

FactCheck.org is an equal opportunity critic, and they also note some funny numbers being used on the Democratic side. An example:
Kerry's stump speech hammers away at Bush for spending money on Iraq instead of domestic needs, but he uses an inflated figure. "It's almost $200 billion now," Kerry said Sept. 7 in Greensboro, NC. But that's too high.

As we pointed out in detail recently, Kerry is using Office of Management and Budget figures which put the cost at just under $120 billion through the end of this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. That's what's actually been spent on military operations and reconstruction. Kerry then adds money that is to be spent in the future -- lumping in a lot of funds that actually won't go for Iraq at all, but are earmarked for Afghanistan (a military operation Kerry supports) and the Pentagon's domestic anti-terror operations, such as combat air patrols over US cities.


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