KNBC Challenges Widely Reported Poverty Figures

By Andrew Gauthier 

KNBC is challenging a piece of economic information that has been widely reported this week: 1 in 2 Americans are poor or low income.

Citing the latest census data, a slew of news outlets, led by the Associated Press, reported on Thursday that nearly half of Americans have fallen into poverty or are considered low income.

KNBC is asserting that the figure is way off.


“You may have heard worried news reports that 50 percent of Americans had either fallen into poverty or are considered low income,” the NBC-owned station reported Thursday.  “But while poverty in the United States is certainly an important issue, those figures appear to be wrong.”

Working with three data analysts at the Census Bureau, KNBC crunched the census numbers and found that far fewer Americans are poor or low income:

According to the latest Census data, about 49.9 million Americans – about 13.8 percent – are living below the poverty line. Another 53.8 million – about 18 percent – are considered low income because they earn less than twice the poverty level.

That’s a total of 31.8 percent, far lower than the dramatic figure of 50 percent that was included in more than 300 online news reports, and multiple TV news broadcasts, including Thursday’s “Today in LA.”

KNBC speculates that reporters may have analyzed the data incorrectly in coming up with the “1 in 2” figure, perhaps mistakenly adding together numbers of those living in the poorest parts of the country and not the nation as a whole.  Or perhaps they just relied too heavily on third-party information, instead of analyzing the data themselves.

[h/t Slate]