First, a full admission about this article: I originally sent a version of it to The Washington Post for publication, but for reasons that will become obvious as you read on, they rejected it.
Here’s the backstory. Several weeks ago, I reported on the very large increase in median household incomes under Donald Trump. Based on Census Bureau monthly data, from January 2017, when President Trump entered office, through August 2019, middle-class household incomes rose from $61,000 to an all-time high of $66,000. These numbers are in 2019 dollars — that is, they are adjusted for inflation. Trump has repeatedly cited these numbers.
The left freaked out for understandable reasons. They are especially agitated because median household incomes have risen by $5,000 under Trump, compared to $1,100 in seven years under President Barack Obama. The data also undermines the case against Trump. Elizabeth Warren likes to say in every speech, “The middle class has been left behind by Trump’s policies.” That’s flat-out wrong.
The self-proclaimed “fact-checkers” on the left went to work to try to discredit the numbers. This includes The Washington Post, PolitiFact and others.
As an aside, we have a big problem in America when the “fact-checkers” are all playing for the liberal team. A case in point is the liberal PolitiFact, which used the screaming headline “Trump’s Shaky $5,000 Boast.” The Post gave Trump two Pinocchios for claiming these income gains and said “Trump Inflates His Economic Record.”
A standard complaint is that these numbers are assembled by a private organization called Sentier Research. But the two Sentier statisticians who analyzed this month’s Census Current Population Survey — a gold mine of economic information — are probably the most knowledgeable people in the country on this data.
The two of them worked in the income division of the Census Bureau for a combined 40 years. They are scrupulously nonpartisan. “We just report the data,” says Sentier’s Gordon Green.
The Post challenged the reliability of this data — even though, on numerous occasions, the Post (and The New York Times) have cited Sentier’s research. Apparently, Sentier is reliable when it tells the Trump-haters what they want to hear and wholly unreliable when the data supports him.
Admittedly, these monthly numbers are a first estimate of what’s happening with incomes over time and up to the moment. They catch the trends over time. In the absence of this data, the latest income data is far lagged by at least a year, and so this tells us with about 90% accuracy what’s going on in real time.
Next, the Post complained that the income data needs to be adjusted for inflation. Actually, all the Sentier data is inflation-adjusted.
Next, they quoted Lou Jacobson of PolitiFact, who claimed that “even taking the expected 2019 statistics into account, the increase under Trump in the official data … should be smaller than the increase Sentier’s data shows.” Sorry, Lou, we already know this was a fumble in your own end zone. The latest data that’s come out just last week shows the income numbers rising to $5,200, not falling.
Then, the skeptics whine that we shouldn’t compare Trump’s record with Obama’s because Obama inherited a deep recession. That’s true, of course, but incomes continued to plummet for two years after the Bush recession ended. Moreover, it was the Post that editorialized before the 2016 election that a Trump presidency risked ruining the U.S. economy and causing a “global financial calamity.”
So it’s more than a little hypocritical for the Post to now claim that the Trump boom they never saw coming is simply a continuation of the Obama recovery. Every fair-minded person knows that if the economy were in recession now, liberals would be shouting, “Aha! Trump’s policies failed.”
Here’s one of my favorite ridiculous claims by the Post: In attacking Trump’s “rumbling distortions” on income gains, a reporter noted that the middle class isn’t doing that well because “on an inflation-adjusted basis, (American) families are earning just 2.7% more (in 2016) than they did in 1999.”
But the flat family income between 1999 and 2016 is exactly what makes the Trump surge in incomes so impressive. Yes, it’s true that incomes barely budged during the Bush and Obama years — up less than $1,200. Does Trump get the blame for that lousy record, too?
If the Post and others in the liberal media really cared about middle-class families, they’d be cheering these gains for scores of millions of households. But the left hates Trump, and so they feverishly root against the economy. It’s not that these aren’t facts. It’s that the left doesn’t want the good news to be true.
This is why the Post refused to allow me to correct the record. The grand irony in all of this is these are the people who assign Trump Pinocchios. He isn’t the one guilty of rambling distortions.
Stephen Moore is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and an economic consultant with FreedomWorks. He is the co-author of “Trumponomics: Inside the America First Plan to Revive the American Economy.”