Arguing today that America's future is bright, David Brooks retails a stat from Stephen J. Rose: 60 percent of US adults have earned over 100k in at least one of the last ten years..I am willing to bet that "adults' should be 'households.' George Will made a similar error in a Jan. '08 column arguing that all was rosy with the American middle class. I will check this out later today.
UPDATE: Bingo. Post above was from a Blackberry. The book by Stephen J. Rose that Brooks references, Rebound: Why Americans Will Emerge Stronger from the Financial Crisis, is not out yet. But in a June 4, 2007 Huffington Post column, Rose wrote (my emphasis):
Because income swings up tend to be larger than income swings down, the median of multi-year income is higher than median in each of the separate years. Consequently, the median income over ten years ending in 2002 was nearly $75,000 (in 2005 dollars) for prime-age adults and only 20 percent had ten-year average incomes below $40,000.I suppose it's just possible that in Rose's forthcoming book, updated stats would bear out Brooks' representation. But I seriously doubt it.*
In addition, half of adults had at least one year in which their total household incomes were greater than $100,000.
As noted in the original post above, this is deja vu all over again. On Jan. 6, 2008**, George Will, pooh-poohing John Edwards' populism, wrote:
Economist Stephen Rose, defining the middle class as households with annual incomes between $30,000 and $100,000, says a smaller percentage of Americans are in that category than in 1979 — because the percentage of Americans earning more than $100,000 has doubled, from 12 to 24...
What Rose said, in a Dec. 23, 2007 Washington Post op-ed, is that between 1979 and 2007, "the number of people in households that bring in more than $100,000... rose from 12 percent to 24 percent."
Over the course of several years, Rose has repeatedly sought to demonstrate that American families' economic status is difficult to pin down because income and fortunes are volatile (though increased income volatility, as Jacob Hacker has shown, is itself a major source of economic distress and lack of wealth accumulation over time). Rose is at pains to notify Democrats in particular that they tend to overstate Americans' overall economic distress and that this distorts both their framing of issues and their policies. His insistence that the broad American middle class remains prosperous is catnip to conservative columnists -- who, in their rush to expropriate, exaggerate.
Brooks and Will are both notoriously sloppy with facts (cf. Will on climate change, Brooks on Senate history), and Brooks is a notoriously sloppy popularizer of others' ideas. Neither scruples to wring facts (and others' ideas) out of context to bolster their lawyers' briefs. It's not at all surprising that they'd share an impulse to misread Rose.
* I've sent Rose a query regarding the stats in Rebound.
** Date corrected per 2nd anon comment - thanks.
UPDATE 2/RETRACTION - I am told that David Brooks has seen this post and affirms that I am in error below: Rose's book does assert that 60% of US adults have earned more than $100k in at least one of the last ten years, not merely that 60% live in households that earned over $100k at least once within that time, as in Rose's assertion in the 2007 article I cite below. Assuming that's true, I am truly chastened and offer my sincere apologies to Brooks and to Stephen Rose. I seem to be guilty of the fault with which I charged Brooks: not having access to Rose's book, which is due out on April 13, I went with what seemed to me (and still seems, frankly) a 99% assurance that his language and stats in the book would be congruent (not identical but congruent) with those in the 2007 article. I should have waited for a response to my query to Rose (per my footnote below), or for the book to come out next week, but instead succumbed to the blogger's temptation be quick on the draw.. My apologies to readers and commenters as well as to Brooks and Rose.
UPDATE 3: On the Dish, a 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. Apology, unequivocal.
UPDATE 4: an explanation? I've also learned secondhand that in Rebound, Rose limited his data set to people aged 26 to 59. In the Huffington Post article, which stated that "half of adults had at least one year in which their total household incomes were greater than $100,000," Rose defined "prime age adults" as those between 25 and 62 years old. Perhaps clipping off another three years enabled Rose to drop the "lived in households" qualifier (as well as up the percentage, not that it may not have risen in an apples-to-apples comparison).
UPDATE 5: Thanks to many insightful commenters. While Rose's numbers certainly raise some questions, and I look forward to scouring his book when it comes out, I just want to clarify that what I retracted, rightly, was my wrong inference that Brooks misquoted Rose specifically by mistaking household income for individual income. Assuming that Rebound makes clear that the data set is adults 26-59, Brooks should have added that qualifier. But the book does say, whether rightly, rightly with major caveats, or wrongly, that "60 percent of [U.S.] adults had at least one year in which their incomes were at least $100,000." There may yet be a little pronoun drift there -- is "my income" "mine and my wife's"? Grammatically, no, but I want to see if the point is elaborated at all in the book (and also, per the comments, whether "income" may include sale of a house, inheritance, etc.). Maybe, too, Brooks' "made more than $100,000" is not quite the same as Rose's "their incomes were at least $100,000." But the fact remains that Brooks did not make the specific error I inferred. Also, I should have quoted Brooks more fully (the post started on a Blackberry) and added the perhaps more startling claim that 40% of adults (26-59) made more than $100k in three of the last ten years.
Also, not to make another unfounded inference, but Brooks also writes, "the percentage of prime-age American adults earning between $35,000 and $70,000 declined by 12 points between 1979 and 2007. But that’s largely because the percentage earning more than $105,000 increased by 14 points." That too is a stat that in another 2007 Rose article -- cited in my post in connection with a real George Will error -- was ""the number of people in households that bring in more than $100,000... rose from 12 percent to 24 percent."
One other question, btw, is what about the considerable percentage of adults 26-59 who have not yet had ten years to earn? I trust that Rose deals with that.