The Wall Street Journal is one of the most influential sources of economic news in the United States. Even when they publish opinion pieces by Romney campaign advisors without disclosing it, and even when they demonize union workers, unemployment insurance, Head Start, fair taxation…the list goes on, but even when we don’t agree, it’s safe to say they are a respected and influential newspaper and website.
But today we figured something out: it wasn’t that the WSJ was wrong in their coverage. They were reporting on a different country!
We figured this out when the WSJ published a graphic explaining how going over the so-called “fiscal cliff” would affect people at different income levels:
Notice anything strange? Yes, all of it. Every single number is laughably high, and applies only to the wealthiest tiny fraction of Americans.
Let’s take the single parent with two children – in the graphic she is depicted as a single mother. The WSJ graphic estimates her having an annual income of $260,000. According to the last Census, there are roughly 10 million households headed by single mothers. As of April 2011, 1.2 million of those single mothers were unemployed, but for those of them lucky enough to find employment their median household income is $24,487. If that looks low, it is: the annual earnings for single-parent families dropped by 20 percent between 2007 and 2010, versus 5 percent for two-parent households. 40.7 percent of single-mother families live in poverty. 93 percent of single mothers make less than $100,000, let alone $260,000.
What about the “single person” making $230,000, depicted in the graphic as a female professional? Well, the median household income for single woman without kids is $25,269, versus $36,611 for her male counterpart. Now, statistically that single woman can bump that number up by owning her home ($61,588) being at the same job for 50 weeks or more ($71,246), having a Master’s degree ($91,660), or having a Professional degree (a whopping $123,784!). Nevertheless, about 94 percent of single women make less than $100,000, let alone $230,000.
What about the married couple with kids? Certainly the power of two earners can reach the WSJ’s estimate of $650,000, an average of $325,000 apiece. But the data says no dice: the median household income for married couples is $71,830. The data show that married couples are the most likely to make over $100,000 – but still 68 percent of them make less than $100,000, and that’s less than 1/6 of the WSJ’s estimation.
Now, fair is fair: the graphic does not say that these calculations apply to the average person in these demographic groups. But why would you make a graphic with such generic pictures and publish it on a widely distributed site when it only applies to such a tiny percent of the American population, perhaps less than one percent?
Our theory: The Wall Street Journal has only seemed wrong and backward in their reporting about the American economy because they weren't actually writing about the American economy. They were reporting on the financial comings and goings of a fictional country – let’s call it “Wall Street” – where they worship the free market, scoff at the rule of law, and react with anger when their infallibility of their main industry is questioned. Oh, and they also consider salaries many times higher than the average American annual income to be merely "average." In this country, even single mothers make over $200,000 a year!
Luckily, our friends at AFSCME have lent a hand to the WSJ graphics department. If the WSJ wants to continue to convince readers that they are a reliable source of news, they’d do well to switch out that graphic for this one: