Douthat Makes It Up On Median Family Income (see note at bottom)

Monday, 18 April 2011 03:57

Ross Douthat struck another blow against fact-based arguments when he told readers that the median family of four has an income of $94,900. Douthat warned that if the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire in 24 years the median family would be paying a marginal tax rate of 39 percent on their labor income.

If Douthat wanted to base this argument in reality then he would have had to start with a median income for a family of four of $75,700. This is what the Census Bureau reports. Douthat overstated the median income for a family of four by more than 25 percent. But hey, it's for a good cause, he wants to keep taxes low.

Douthat also includes some bizarre racial politics in his analysis. He argues that we will face racial tensions in future years because most of the working population will be non-white whereas most seniors getting Social Security and Medicare will be white. His story is that the non-white working age population will resent paying benefits to white retirees.

This is possible if rich people can direct racial resentments towards retired workers. However the more obvious racial tension would be between the working population and the very wealthy, who are also overwhelmingly white. The  top 1 percent's share of national income has increased by close to 10 percentage points in the last 30 years. This is enough to double the income of the bottom 50 percent.

Given the wealthy's control over the media and its ability to promulgate untrue information, they may be able to direct racial hostility against retirees getting Social Security checks of $1,100 a month and who have access to decent health care. However, the more obvious direction of resentment would be against the wealthy who have rigged the deck to ensure that such a large share of the country's output comes to them.


Addendum: As several comments note, Douthat actually was citing a real number for his $94,900 median. This came from the Congressional Budget Office's long-term budget projections. The main reason that CBO shows a higher figure than Census is that the CBO data include employer provided health insurance and employer side payroll taxes as part of workers' income. Together these are likely to add 20 percent or more to wages, especially for married couples with children, since the employer may contribute to benefits for spouses and children. So Douthat presumably came by this number honestly, even if he did not represent it accurately in his column.

Douthat has confirmed this point in a note to his column.