Statistics — Another way of deceiving

Published 5:39 pm Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Mark Twain was quoted as saying there are three different kinds of lies — lies, d***** lies and statistics.

This year, the blatant lies have crowded out the less exciting statistics and how they are used to mislead folks. Even if the statistics themselves are absolutely accurate, the words that describe what they are measuring can be misleading. There are boundless possibilities for spinning numbers to score political points.  Let’s focus on the statistics that have been cited by President Barack Obama and his surrogates being used to give you false perceptions.

Household income is an example. When we hear about how much more income the top 20 percent of households make, compared with the bottom 20 percent of households, one key fact is usually left out.

There are millions more people in the top 20 percent of households than in the bottom 20 percent of households. For example, in 2002 there were 40 million people in the bottom 20 percent of households and 69 million people in the top 20 percent.

The number of households is the same in each case but the number of people in those households is different. A little more than half of the households in the bottom 20 percent have nobody working. Some may be widows or widowers living alone. Others may be single mothers with one or more children.

Seldom are these types of households going to have the incomes of households with two working adults. In 2010, there were more people working full-time in the top 5 percent of households than in the bottom 20 percent.

Household income statistics can be misleading in other ways.

The number of people per household changes from one time period to another. When you compare household incomes from a year when there were six people per household with a later year when there were four people per household, you are comparing apples and oranges.

Even if income per person increased 25 percent between those two years, average household income statistics will, nevertheless, show a decline.

When the income of four people rises 25 percent, this means that four people are now making the same income as five people made in an earlier time.

But not as much as six people made before.  So household income statistics can show an economic decline, even when per capita income has risen.

Frank Ruff represents Lunenburg in the Virginia Senate. His email address is