Andrew Sullivan linked to my post. Brooks complained that I was wrong, that Rebound did refer to "adults" as opposed to "households." The Dish posted a direct quote from Rebound: ""Another way to look at incomes over many years is to see how often people experienced high and low incomes. Indeed, fully 60 percent of adults had at least one year in which their incomes were at least $100,000" (p. 119). I posted a retraction and apology -- conceding that whatever the truth behind the numbers, I was wrong to jump to the conclusion that Brooks had misquoted Rose (though I did originally acknowledge the "highly unlikely" possibility that Rose's numbers or terminology may have changed from 2007 to 2010).
Today my copy of Rebound finally arrived (Update: my full review here). I am happy to report that while the book does indeed (of course) contain the sentence above, Rose's definition of terms earlier in the chapter makes it clear "their incomes" signifies the household income of each "adult" -- adjusted, moreover, for age
The chapter in question, "The Myth of the Declining Middle Class," begins with a bit of terminological slippage that's clarified later but turns up in Brooks' representation. My emphasis in all cited passages below:
These longitudinal data show that many people have long term incomes of over $100,000 a year--a level that permits a minimum level of discretionary expenditures in most parts of the country. This large base of families with reasonably high incomes provides the underpinning of our mass-consumer market as evidenced by crowded suburban malls (103).That conflation is more or less explained later in the chapter, when Rose discusses the various factors that need to be folded into apples-to-apples comparisons of household incomes across different eras and income levels:
Analysts agree that one's standard of living is best reflected by total family income--a figure that includes all sources of income (e.g., earnings, business income, rental payment, interest and other financial income, and transfer payments such as Social Security, unemployment insurance, and welfare and disability payments) from all members of the family....
Few dispute that the same amount of money does not support the same level of consumption in households of different size, and researchers have developed methodologies to align income and size to get equivalent standards of living. For example, in the approach that is used here, a single person with $50,000 of income has the "equivalent income" of a family of three with $86,600 or a family of four with 100,000(106)
I should not have cast my inference that Brooks was misquoting Rose as a near-certainty without being able to verify it. Literally, there was no misquote -- or rather a minor one, converting Rose's "fully 60 percent of adults had at least one year in which their incomes were at least $100,000" to a more active verb formulation: "Over the last 10 years, 60 percent of Americans made more than $100,000." Brooks' re-cast also edits out a ghost of pronoun slippage in Rose's studiedly vague formulation: "adults" had years in which "their" incomes were over $100k. While "their" grammatically agrees with "adults," keeping both in the plural somehow highlights the elision by which household income (the term Rose uses in earlier writings citing similar statistics) becomes the income enjoyed by the individuals in the household.
If Brooks read the full chapter, -- and it's not clear whether he had an advance copy or simply interviewed Rose -- he should have noted the multiple lenses through which that vision of "60 percent of adults" enjoying the magic six-figure income level was filtered.
UPDATE: Brad DeLong translates Rose's "60% earned $100K at least once in ten years" claim:
My reading of Stephen Rose is that the best way to report his finding is: "fully 60% of adults aged 34-59 in 2005, over the previous ten years, had at least one year in which their household's total income excluding capital gains would have supported material living standards for its members that, when adjusted for family size and composition, would have equalled or exceeded the material living standards of a family of four with household income greater than $100,000 in 2009."In the comments, I asked, "why a family of four?" DeLong's response: "That may be wrong--but it seemed to me the natural way of reading, since figures are usually given either in per capital terms or for a household of four. But I am trying to check up on it right now..."
UPDATE 2: Thanks, Stephen Rose, for weighing in directly in a comment, below. Rose confirms that the $100k in question here is household income but clarifies that it is not adjusted for family size. That means that the passage about methodology cited above, explaining "the approach that is used here," does not extend (fully) to info provided under a later subhead that appears later in the chapter. The passage that concerns us is in a section analyzing data from The Panel Study on Income Dynamics (PSID) (under the subhead "Long-Run Incomes). PSID does provide data adjusted for family size; in discussion of this data, Rose cites some stats that are size-adjusted and some that aren't. Specifically, Rose stresses in paragraphs immediately preceding the sentence paraphrased by Brooks that median U.S. family income growth since 1967 is much higher when adjusted for size. In retrospect, I can see that figures cited in the text in this section are size-adjusted when Rose spells that out, and not size-adjusted when he doesn't (also, I should have noted that PSID data cited in the nearest chart is size-adjusted for a family of 3, not a family of 2.6 as I speculated, based on Rose's citation of average family size in 1998).
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