Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Self fulfilling sophistry

Posting has become more difficult lately, because my recently acquired Macintosh is in the shop. So I'm missing a lot of reference material I moved to it. In any case, here's a recent point I can't pass up.

The Lansing State Journal recently printed an Associated Press story that the AP titled Income Gap Between Families Grows. CNN titled the same story U.S. incomes reveal racial divide. The LSJ's headline I can't remember, and it can't be found on their website. It had Black and/or White in it though, emphasizing racial disparity as did CNN.

Anyway, the racial divide headlines are not entirely without justification based on how the AP starts the report:

"Decades after the civil rights movement, the income gap between black and white families has grown," reports the Associated Press, citing a new Brookings Institution study.
However, on the 6th page of the Brookings study AP missed an opportunity for better reportage by failing to note some specific demographics regarding earnings changes. Since 1975, black males are down 12%. White males are down 4%. Black women are up 74%. White women are up 448%! That's not a typo. White women in 1975 had median earnings of $4,021, black women averaged $12,063. Today those numbers are $22,030 and $21,000, respectively. Black women have outperformed black men by 86%. White women trounced all comers. How can this be?

Brookings’ footnote to that chart helps explain those numbers: "All men and women ages 30-39, including those with no personal income, are included in these estimates." Understanding the base line of the report is quite important to how you interpret it, an interpreting a study in a headline requires reading it, rather than the AP summary.

from the footnote, one can conclude that proportionally many more black females were employed in 1975 than white females, and that many white females have since joined the workforce. Black females as a group should be proud, they
are obviously fulfilling their responsibility toward family income. Black males, on the other hand, should be ashamed; for reasons we’ve heard from Bill Cosby, among others.

If differences in earning power were significantly caused by skin color, how do you explain black womens' earnings?

In another Brookings report we get more information about family income. Emphasis mine:

...Women’s incomes have grown while men’s incomes have stagnated.

* Women in their 30s today have substantially higher personal income than comparably aged women in their mothers’ generation, but still make less than their male counterparts. Between 1974 and 2004, median personal income for women in their 30s increased from about $5,700 to $20,000 (in 2004 dollars).

* By comparison, men in their 30s today have not had the same experience of upward economic mobility. Inflation-adjusted median income for men ages 30- 39 actually fell by 12 percent between 1974 and 2004, from $40,000 a year to about $35,000 a year, as previously reported by the project.

* Men's employment rates, hours worked, and wages have been flat or declining over this period, while all three components of annual earnings have increased substantially for women.

* Family incomes have grown slightly because the increase in women’s earnings has more than offset stagnant male earnings. Between 1974 and 2004, median family income for men in their 30s and their families increased by 9 percent (0.3 percent per year).
This picture does not take race into account. Earning power is more related to family structure than skin color, and more related to white women entering the workforce than any other factor. Choosing to live with, and even marry, a person with whom you conceive a child actually conveys economic benefit.

On the heels of the headlined implication that race predicts your chances for increasing earnings over time, the LSJ followed up today with another AP story. This one talked about black pessimism.

Study: Blacks pessimistic about racial progress

Hope Yen
Associated Press

Growing numbers of black Americans say they're worse off than five years ago and don't expect their lives to improve, a study released Tuesday shows. Black pessimism about racial progress in America, according to the study, is the worst it's been in more than two decades.
Ya think?

Maybe it's because of all the negative, and unexamined, stories from AP to which race is attached in the headline.

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