Annie Jacobson Tracks Down $7 a Day Statistic/ Finds Wacky Data


Writing at Pajamas Media, Annie Jacobson takes a provocative statistic:

60 million Americans living on less than $7 a day

and tracks it back to the original source. She found the claim in, where else?, an LAT editorial written by Lisa Richardson and edited by Jim Newton.

Newton claims Richardson was responsible, and she didn’t call Jacobson back. The Times linked to a pretty dubious source, blogger William Shanley–it’s also at the ever reliable World Socialist Web Site. Through some actual research, Jacobson finds that the source wasn’t Census data, as reported along the way, but rather IRS data as interpreted by the NY Times and reported by David Cay Johnson. She gets an assist from a Back Talk blogger who explains why reported income data is unreliable.

Moral of the story: fact checking at major newspapers is slack, not all websites are equally reliable, and statistics lie to the unwary.

And check out the comments section.

Johnson’s article got some online attention when it first appeared, making one wonder why the LA Times didn’t dig a little deeper?

(Graph from Visualizing Economics)