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Can Government Data Be Trusted?

CAVEAT EMPTOR …

It’s been said that numbers don’t lie.  It’s also been said there are “lies, damn lies and statistics.”

Obviously, we know politicians lie.  And we know media outlets like to lie about politicians.  And at this point it’s become abundantly clear traditional polling lies about elections.

But shouldn’t we be able to trust the data that’s produced by government agencies (using our tax dollars)?  Shouldn’t basic economic data – employment, income, GDP growth – be held to a higher standard than faulty political polling?

It should be … but increasingly it isn’t.  In fact, it appears as though this data is more and more prone to manipulation – especially in advance of popular elections.

That’s a scary proposition to contemplate, isn’t it?  Yes.  But it frankly isn’t surprising.  If we think long and hard about the numbers we’re bombarded with on a daily basis … we know things aren’t as good as the government bean counters tell us.

That’s why it is critical to assess the information government provides us – to break it down in an effort to determine whether we are being told the truth.  

And if groups like Market Research Foundation don’t do the assessing/ breakdowns, no one will.

Consider this …

Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that median household income in the United States climbed 5.3 percent from $53,718 in 2014 to $56,516 a year ago.  The data marked the first increase in this key metric since 2007 – the year before the Great Recession began.

The unexpectedly high print also marked the largest year-to-year increase in median household income since the Census Bureau began tracking this metric back in 1967.

Not surprisingly, the data was splashed across the media – prompting U.S. president Barack Obama to brag about his administration’s “success” in turning the economy around.

Are the income gains legitimate, though?   That’s up for debate … even if the MSM didn’t debate it.

Left unmentioned, for example, in The Los Angeles Timesglowing coverage of this data (but buried in one of the paper’s income charts) was a reference to post-2013 Census data being based on “redesigned income questions.”

Wait … “redesigned income questions?”

That’s right.   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).

Additionally, Census surveyors were instructed to “collect the value of assets that generate income if the respondent is unsure of the income generated.”

Presto, change-o.

“Census moved the goal posts,” John Crudele wrote for The New York Post.  “Starting in 2013 with a partial phase-in, which was fully implemented in 2014, Census changed the questions and the methods in calculating household income.”

Sadly, such “redesigned” outcomes are par for the course when it comes to government economic data.   Last spring, the U.S. Bureau of Advisors adopted a “double seasonal adjustment” to artificially inflate gross domestic product (GDP).  And of course who can forget the 2012 manipulations uncovered at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which publishes the government’s monthly employment situation report.

Bottom line?  Government data appears to be every bit as easy to manipulate as political polling – and easier than ever to foist on an unsuspecting American public.

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