Saturday, I emailed my reaction to two stories, in slightly stinging prose, to a popular local newspaper column. I expressed concern about some mistakes and what I considered the misleading politicizing of income numbers. My offering didn’t make it into the maximum circulation Sunday edition. If history is any guide, there’s little chance of making any edition.
To the great distaste of my local paper, I’m convinced, I wrote of one particular issue where print and electronic media outlets need to take responsibility for their troubling parroting of Republican “facts” that are, in fact, pure propaganda. There also seems to be a journalistic epidemic of misinformation based on the lack of familiarity with the subject matter, little research by reporters and, in many cases, severe under-staffing.
This contribution roughly reflects what I wrote for Upstate South Carolina consumption. It involves two separate stories published days apart in the newspaper. In their content are elements that you must recognize as both uninformed and politically sneaky. The stories involve presentations to the City Council that have little to do with economic development, but do involve wages and certain definitions that are both confusing and what appear to be intentionally misleading. Part one of this questionable journalism involves two terms that are often used interchangeably when describing earnings levels. The terms are average and median. Workers can be making a certain income, couched as either the ‘average’ income of that worker or the ‘median’ income of said worker.
The paper cited the same wage numbers, alternately using both ‘average’ and ‘median’ without changing the numbers. In other words, city residents earned an ‘average’ income of $33,098. In another article, the same exact income was characterized as the ‘median’ income. Whoa Nellie! Can’t be. Average income is adding all incomes from a given area (say, a city) together and dividing them by the number of workers included in that average. Whereas you arrive at the ‘median’ number by arranging each income in ascending order. You then find the exact 50% above/50% below mid-point of those incomes. That’s the ‘median’ income. There is no way that the local average and median could have been the same. Somebody at the paper should have caught these obvious errors. In checking the source of these figures, the numbers were all median.
What rankles me is what I believe to be the distortion of these numbers. And this is something you must be aware of every time you read or watch similar stories in your local media. It’s interesting that these are really economic development numbers that were delivered by the head of another unrelated department who may have been duped into leaving out critical definitions.
Here’s what was done and why. My county is, all the sudden, being targeted as the economically idyllic epicenter of the latest manufacturing or service-center colossus. The newspaper in particular goes nuttier at each prospect (ad space) than a sophomore on his first Spring Break. Enormous headlines greet each new gigantic widget-making interloper. The new manufacturer will allegedly spend initial billions, dump more ongoing billions into the local economy, hire all willing workers within a 100 mile radius, ad nauseam. Anything resembling the economic truth is not particularly welcome in Upstate South Carolina.
If Aeschylus were around today, he would slightly alter his famed quote, “In war, truth is the first casualty.” He would more likely opt for, “In economic development, truth is the first casualty.” You see, when the big boys come galloping in from either the U.S. or, as is just as likely these days, from far off lands, their sudden, disruptive and often polluting presence has to be sold to the proletariat as corporate saviors that are going to fill worker pockets with greenbacks. Of course, the movers and shakers need the numbers to back up those claims; otherwise, workers might just push for unions in a vehemently anti-union state.
In all candor, many of these new outfits bring lots more greenhouse gases than they do greenbacks for their low wage laborers. Publicizing that fact is antithetical to attracting even more outside union-haters. So here’s how the numbers are represented, and I quote directly’ “The average income for city residents is $33,098…well below the state’s average income of $44,623 and ***County’s average income of $43,421. Now we’ve already established that these are median figures, not average, but the real red propaganda flag is in the term “city residents and the county’s average income.” Anybody reading either article where the same ‘city residents’ terminology is used would assume that the wages referenced are those earned by a single city worker.
That’s what you’re supposed to think, that all of these new giants are paying mid-40′s income to each county worker and a not real high but livable $33,000 and change, for city workers. Not even remotely the fact. I went to the U.S. Census Quick Facts 2012 website (see for yourself) and discovered that these are not individual or per capita figures; these are HOUSEHOLD INCOME numbers. Household income means the total wages of everybody in your household who works. Household size is mentioned, but never in the context of household income. The per capita income in the city is a pathetic $20,761, nearly $13,000 less than you’re being led to believe. It’s even worse in the county. Per capita numbers are $22,019. That’s $21,402 less when the full story is told. No per capita numbers were presented in the paper. Eschewing the critical terms household (as applied to income) and per capita is deception, pure and simple. The high percentage of city residents living below the poverty line is noted, so how could you not mention per capita?
I’m not anti-corporation, not even anti-mega corporation. I just make two demands of these behemoths. Be possessed of a soul and a conscience. Don’t just put down roots because you know you can pay hard working residents a pittance or you can pollute to your heart’s content or you can work the local and state governments for money, tax and infrastructure perks that a small or medium-size businessman or woman could only dream about. Take care of the people who are giving of their time and loyalty. It’s much like the sons or daughters of aging parents. When the kids were younger, the parents attended to their every need, just like workers attend to the manufacturer’s every need. Pay your people a decent wage. Sacrifice 10 million of your CEO’s 30 million dollar salary and spread it among the workers. You’re filthy rich. Be a good citizen. Not the phony board membership baloney that you plug your wealthy top dogs into for show. Be a good citizen by welcoming unions or, at the very least, worker’s councils.
Honor what’s best about capitalism. Reestablish the union-created vanishing middle-class. A middle-class that was able to send their children to college, who, as graduating young adults, contributed enormously to the success of your big business. As for the workers, give them the respect they deserve for contributing nearly 20,000 of their precious hours a decade to your brand.
That’s the least you can do.