Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Douthat on median income: I apologize (sort of)

Conservative columnist Ross Douthat is catching some flack for his recent New York Times column that said the median income for a family of four is $94,900. Say what?!! exclaimed several readers in comments to the column, which also was published in Tuesday's Observerl under the title, "Crushing America's promise." Some readers noted that the median household income reported by the Census for 2010 is only about $50,000 per year, half the figure Douthat used.

On his blog Monday Douthat took note of the criticism, "apologized for the confusion" and explained himself - though he didn't change his column or the conclusions he reached. Here's what he said:

A Note on Median Income
My column today includes an estimate, taken from this Congressional Budget Office report, of what a median-income family would pay in taxes over the next few decades under the “current law baseline” — a scenario in which tax rates rise fast enough to cover the budget deficit without any kind of entitlement reform. The median income figure the C.B.O. used (see Table 4-4 on p. 65 of the report) is $94,900 for a family of four, which (as a number of readers have noted) seems much higher than the usual estimates for median income in a four-person household. It turns out that I didn’t catch a crucial footnote in the C.B.O. document: “All income is assumed to be from compensation, which includes employment-based health insurance and the employer’s share of payroll taxes.” That is to say, the $94,900 in income includes the estimated value of the median family’s health care plan as well as their salary, which is not what most people think of when they hear the term “median income.” I apologize for the confusion.

Ummm. Got that?