Sunday, September 25, 2005

Lies, Damned Lies, and....

The boys over at Powerline report on Al Franken's speech at Yale. In it he accuses Rush Limbaugh of lying about minimum wage statistics. Well, there is lying...and then there is lying with statistics. Which of the two is closer to the truth? You decide:

I don't know if Franken quoted Rush accurately, but the fact is, while Rush's number may be wrong...his point (that min. wage workers are very young) is dead on. It is Franken's statistic, 60% of minimum wage earners are 20 or above, that is misleading. Note this from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

"Minimum wage workers tend to be young. About half of all hourly-paid workers earning $5.15 or less were under age 25, and about one-fourth were age 16-19. Among teenagers, about 9 percent earned $5.15 or less. About 2 percent of workers age 25 and over earned the minimum wage or less. Among those age 65 and over, the proportion was 4 percent. (See table 1 and table 7.)"

BLS Minimum Wage Data

So if we were to state that 75% 50% of all minimum wage earners are likely teenagers on their first job or college students working while they go to school...whose point, between Franken's and Limbaugh's, is closer to the mark? Franken's 'accurate stat' is just a classic of lying with statistics. There is an infinite number of distributions that would encompass '20 and above'. By leaving the impression that most minimum wage earners are older, Franken is dishonestly misrepresenting the figures. As you can see, Rush merely got his age demarkation wrong. The 75% 50% actually extends from 16-25...not 19 and below. Sloppy language, but his point is essentially correct. Franken on the other hand, leaves out the fact that only 2 percent of all workers on minimum wage are above the age of 25 are on minimum wage . Speaking of lying liars and the lies they tell....

NOTE: italics contains text added 10/03/05

UPDATE: A reader notes that I make the mistake of conflating the breakdown on age among all earners in terms of minimum wage-earners with the intra-category breakdown of age among minimum wage-earners. To be clear, there are two points I was trying to make: as a percent of all workers most miminum wager earners are young (that's the quoted portion from the BLS). Second, a substantial percentage of minimum wage earners are young (indeed over half). Note the two categories: 16-25 (9 years) and 25 and over (in the range of 30-40 years). Despite the difference in the two categories, half of minimum wage workers can be found in the first category. What's more, the data distribution in the second category is skewed to the right (meaning more workers are located closer to that 25 age cutpoint than out at the other tail). Workers in high-school, just out of high-school, or in college (or just out of college). A very small percentage of minimum wage workers are in their 30's and 40's. By using the 20 years or older cut off, without making note of the distribution of workers within that segment (heavily skewed to the right), Franken dishonestly misrepresents who minimum wage earners are and ignores the fact that most older workers aren't making minimum wage. Limbaugh is closer to the truth, despite getting his numbers wrong.