We just aren’t as sharp as we think: At this point, it may seem hard to believe. But Salon was once a very bright journal with high intellectual standards.
It seems to us that the decline in basic skill level at Salon has been little short of astounding. For the latest example, consider the new report which appears beneath these gloomy headlines:
Half of Americans below or near poverty lineAre half of Americans really “below or near” the poverty line?
The Census Bureau says 15 percent of the country is living in poverty, but the reality is much worse
“Near” is a highly imprecise term. We decided to take a look at this gloomy report.
We were sorry we did.
Salon’s report, by Paul Bushheit, first appeared at Alternet, where the headline is even more gloomy. (“The Real Numbers: Half of America in Poverty—and It's Creeping Upward.”)
Is half of America “in poverty?” Is half of America “below or near the poverty line?” (You’ll note that those aren’t the same claim.) At the start of his piece, Buchheit says this: “The Census Bureau has reported that 15 percent of Americans live in poverty.”
So how do we get from 15 percent to half the country being in or near poverty? Pitifully, this is the relevant part of Buchheit’s text:
3. Based on wage figures, half of Americans are in or near poverty.There’s a term for work like that: incoherent. Nothing in that text explains or justifies the claim that half of Americans are in poverty (or below or near the poverty line).
The IRS reports that the highest wage in the bottom half of earners is about $34,000. To be eligible for food assistance, a family can earn up to 130 percent of the federal poverty line, or about $30,000 for a family of four.
Even the Census Bureau recognizes that its own figures under-represent the number of people in poverty. Its Supplemental Poverty Measure increases, by 50 percent, the number of Americans who earn between one-half and two times the poverty threshold.
Let’s go through that unfortunate jumble one sentence at a time:
“The IRS reports that the highest wage in the bottom half of earners is about $34,000.”
Presumably, that means that $34,000 is the median wage for “earners.” Presumably, we’re talking about individuals here, not about family income. But based on that fuzzy text, who could really say?
“To be eligible for food assistance, a family can earn up to 130 percent of the federal poverty line, or about $30,000 for a family of four.”
From this, we can deduce that the federal poverty line for a family of four is something less than $30,000. Of course, this doesn’t tell us how many families fall at, near or below this line.
“Even the Census Bureau recognizes that its own figures under-represent the number of people in poverty.”
That may be true, but it doesn’t get us anywhere our conclusion. According to Buchheit, the Bureau says that 15 percent of Americans live in poverty. How do we get from there to half?
“Its Supplemental Poverty Measure increases, by 50 percent, the number of Americans who earn between one-half and two times the poverty threshold.”
Basically, we have no idea what that means, and Buchheit makes no attempt to explain. But if we’re talking about “Americans who earn between one-half and two times the poverty threshold,” then, by definition, we’re talking about people who are above the poverty line. How does this produce the claim which those headlines proclaim?
The decline in Salon’s intellectual standard has been truly remarkable. It’s stunning to think that Salon would publish this mess under that headline—or at least, it would have been stunning even a few years ago.
A bottom line is peeking out here: We liberals are nowhere near as smart as we tend to think and proclaim. We often parade about the land, acting like we are the very smart campers.
This piece is an incoherent mess. At Salon, they couldn’t tell.