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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Watch out for the misinterpretation of statistics

Friday, February 10, 2012 | 1:44 p.m. CST; updated 4:38 p.m. CST, Friday, February 10, 2012

J. Karl Miller’s opinion piece in the Feb. 9 edition of the Columbia Missourian opposing an increase in the minimum wage is an excellent example of using statistics to obfuscate and mislead. Miller labels as false Robert Reich’s conclusion that 40% of minimum wage workers are the sole source of income for their families. One expects Miller to then cite an alternative figure to support his claim that Reich is wrong. But he does no such thing. Instead, he throws a bunch of statistics at us that in no way refute Reich’s figure.

Miller notes that in 2005 1.9 million Americans earned minimum wage, which constituted only 2.5% of all hourly wage workers and 1.5% of all U.S. employees. But he doesn't tell us what percentage of these 1.9 million workers are the sole source of their family income. He then proceeds to claim that "more than half of those earning minimum wage are between 16 and 24 and living at home." Certainly at a time of economic hardship when many middle-aged workers are unemployed, a proportion of these young minimum wage workers are the sole family breadwinners. What is that proportion? Miller is silent.

According to Miller, 2.8 percent of minimum wage workers were single parents, and 1.2 percent were adult heads of households with annual incomes of less than $10,000. Of course, $10,000 is less than half the income level that defines poverty for a family of four. What percentage of minimum wage workers are adult heads of households with poverty level incomes? Again, Miller is silent. The fact that any adult worker in the U.S. has a family income less than $10,000 is a strong indictment of our wage system and a compelling argument for increasing the minimum wage on the basis of fairness and decency.

Why does Miller dance around Reich’s figure of 40% with irrelevant statistics? If Reich’s figure is wrong, why doesn’t Miller provide the correct one?

Miller repeats the well-worn argument that raising the minimum wage results in job loss. However, numerous studies have documented that any jobs lost are more than compensated by job creation, stimulated by increased purchasing power because of more money in the pockets of people who spend it. Miller seems to blame a more-than-doubling of the teenager unemployment rate between 2006 and 2009 on a raise in the minimum wage. Weren't there serious economic developments during this time completely unrelated to the minimum wage that increased unemployment for all?

Miller identifies four options employers have when faced with an increase in the minimum wage, all of which are negative. But he neglects other options that make a lot of sense to many of us. Businesses could commit some of the more than two trillion dollars that they are collectively hoarding to fund the increase. This would have the benefit of stimulating the economy. Corporate executives could devote a part of their exorbitant compensation to pay their lowest income workers. After all, many minimum wage workers are employed by huge corporations, whose executives "make" more in a day than the workers receive in a year.

As Miller asserts, Missourians should "research" the issues relating to raising the minimum wage. We need to be particularly careful about interpreting statistics that are abused for partisan purposes.

Robert Blake is a Columbia resident.


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Comments

Christopher Foote February 10, 2012 | 5:02 p.m.

+1

(Report Comment)
John Schultz February 10, 2012 | 9:05 p.m.

"However, numerous studies have documented that any jobs lost are more than compensated by job creation, stimulated by increased purchasing power because of more money in the pockets of people who spend it."

Seems the author is guilty of similar sins that he accuses the Colonel of...

(Report Comment)
frank christian February 10, 2012 | 9:55 p.m.

John - You have read this guy on the Trib. He clearly believes the 1st Amendment insures the freedom to lie.

Imo he spent an evening reciting our problems (as is the liberal bent),relies upon a false prophet, R. Reich (newspapers wrote that his friends investigated for his cabinet position, stated that "he has a short handle on the truth"), to accuse Col, Miller of not answering questions he supposes are important.

His ignorance is displayed with "Businesses could commit some of the more than two trillion dollars that they are collectively hoarding to fund the increase. This would have the benefit of stimulating the economy. Corporate executives could devote a part of their exorbitant compensation to pay their lowest income workers."

Apparently, his thinking never turns toward an individual, the one he seemingly claims to represent, but only on the underpaid masses and their persecutors, the "Corporate executives". In my view, ridiculous!

(Report Comment)
Jonathan Hopfenblatt February 11, 2012 | 2:32 a.m.

The cascade of hypocrisy is amusing. On one hand, the author accuses Col. Miller of not citing the right statistics, after which the author himself doesn't support his claims with the right statistics. After John Schultz rightly calls the author out on it, frank christian proceeds to call the guy a liar while providing no evidence whatsoever for his accusations.

It's also interesting to note that frank then stated that the author is ignorant, even though all frank did was quote what the guy said and accuse him of ignorance beforehand. (Like the author asked with regard to Col. Miller, where's your evidence?)

At least frank had the decency this time around to preface his inanity with Imos and In-my-views. We wouldn't want to pretend that we're trying to offer a legitimate counter-argument, now would we?

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking February 11, 2012 | 6:22 a.m.

"Businesses could commit some of the more than two trillion dollars that they are collectively hoarding to fund the increase."

The reason they're hoarding it is there's not a lot of reason to expand right now. It does seem like consumer confidence is picking up somewhat, and when this happens, we'll see businesses expanding to service that. It's a consequence of the recession that companies are sitting on cash. I'm stockpiling cash also. Everyone should be, as much as they can.

"Corporate executives could devote a part of their exorbitant compensation to pay their lowest income workers."

Executive pay is typically an infinitesimal part of the operating expenses of a large corporation. Labor is far greater. Distributing CEO pay to labor won't make much of a difference.

CEO pay is, and should be, set by market forces. Shareholders must think they're worth it, or they wouldn't be compensated as they are. No one sets their own salary (unles they're self-employed). It also deoesn't make much difference in the price of a product or service.

DK

(Report Comment)
frank christian February 11, 2012 | 10:04 a.m.

I was writing to a person who, I'm sure has read this author on another blog. If one requires "evidence" that " He clearly believes the 1st Amendment insures the freedom to lie.", one could read him on the other blog.

One that believes that "businesses" and "Corporate executives", while waiting for change in control of our Federal government that will create said atmosphere and regulation that can allow the possibility of entrepreneurial profit, should, would, or could spread their hard earned capital among some that are labeled by a few, as "not being paid enough" is IMO ignorant! Worse,he is liberal.

Then we arrive at the one objecting and demanding "evidence"! IMO, if unable to discern the ignorance in this "businesses-executive" belief then he must be assigned a place in the line of ignorant immediately behind the author of this letter. IMO!

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush February 11, 2012 | 12:12 p.m.

One side: CATO and
AEI and Heritage.
The other: data.

I was agnostic,
Then I read reality's
Liberal bias.

To be a bit more
Convincing, I can use some
Exclamation points.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush February 11, 2012 | 12:19 p.m.

Clearly, numbers are
Not intended to be a
Factual statement.

(Report Comment)
Jonathan Hopfenblatt February 15, 2012 | 1:08 a.m.

frank: Yes, you need to provide evidence if you're going to claim that this guy "clearly believes the 1st Amendment insures the freedom to lie." As in, post the link in which he said this.

(Report Comment)

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