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Department of Corrections

Kevin Drum is right and I am wrong:

Ezra Klein surveys yesterday's report from the Census Bureau and says: "Median income dropped a bit, poverty rose a bit, and so too did the number of Americans without health insurance. But the actual changes aren't very large."

Based on the reporting I saw yesterday, which initially caused me to think that income had dropped only slightly, this is a widespread view. But it just isn't true. In fact, the 2008 drop in median household income was the biggest since the Census Bureau started tracking this stuff in 1976. Income dropped $1,860 in 2008, and the next closest competitor is 1980, when it dropped $1,439. Last year was the worst year for household income in both absolute terms and percentage terms in the past three decades.

I should have read the data more closely rather than taking my general impression from the reporting. The change in the uninsured was quite small, and I was primarily focusing on those numbers (I wear health-care blinders these days). But what that really showed is that our public programs are working. There's no similar backstop for income. Here's the key graph:


Remember, these are 2009 numbers, which is to say, they're before the crisis fully spread to the labor market. Next year's data will count 2009, and it's going to be murder. We haven't come anywhere near to dealing with the consequences this downturn has had on the average American family.

By Ezra Klein  |  September 11, 2009; 2:46 PM ET
Categories:  Economy  
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Typo -- remember these are 2008, not 2009 numbers.

Posted by: seerrees | September 11, 2009 4:00 PM | Report abuse

" i am wrong."

thank you, ezra.
it is generally harder for most people to say they did something wrong than to get it right in the first place.
those three words could have changed the course of history more than almost anything else.
hardly anything takes more courage and fewer words than to admit to making a mistake.

Posted by: jkaren | September 11, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse

This is the scariest graph I've seen in a long time.

Posted by: bmull | September 11, 2009 10:06 PM | Report abuse

But Ezra, the median isn't the average, it's the median. Thus, this data doesn't tell us about the average household. It tells us that a lot of people who previously made more than 52g now make less than 52g per year. Hence, this tells us about the upper middle American household.

Posted by: karlpopper1 | September 14, 2009 8:23 AM | Report abuse

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