Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Census drops bad data showing rural income drop; Trumpers cite it to argue rural areas lagging behind

On Monday the Census Bureau announced it was removing findings from a report that showed rural household incomes were on the decline, Max Ehrenfreund reports for The Washington Post. When the report was released last week it was widely reported that household median incomes rose for the first time since 2007, increasing 3 percent in metro areas and 4 percent in suburban areas, but dropping 2 percent in rural areas. Reports failed to take into account a change in the way metro and non-metro areas were defined from 2014 to 2015. In truth, rural household incomes actually rose 3.4 percent in 2015.

"The flawed estimates were based on the bureau's Current Population Survey, one of several surveys conducted regularly by the bureau," Ehrenfreund writes. "The problem resulted from how, as the population grows and Americans move from one part of the country to another, the bureau must adjust the boundaries that define metropolitan areas. These adjustments, carried out every decade, altered the map for the Current Population Survey last year." Changes in definitions of regions moved about 6 million from rural to urban areas.

Some rural residents, especially those who favor Donald Trump, say they are not benefiting from the rise in incomes, Binyamin Appelbaum, Patricia Cohen and Jack Healy report for The New York Times. Ralph Kingan, mayor of Wright, Wyo., told NYT, "We ain’t feeling too much of all that economic growth that I heard was going on, patting themselves on the back. It ain’t out in the West.” (NYT graphic: Change in annual household income)

The Times writes, "While the economy finally is moving in the right direction, the real incomes of most American households still are smaller than in the late 1990s. And large swaths of the country—rural America, industrial centers in the Rust Belt and Appalachia—are lagging behind. The repeated assertions by Trump that the middle class is being decimated and the economy is in decline ring true to his supporters. Many Americans, even those who are prospering, remain pessimistic about the fragile recovery."

David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, co-authored a study that "found that voting patterns had shifted most in the parts of the country that lost the most jobs as a result of increased trade with China," NYT writes. "The study, which focused on congressional elections, found that voters in districts with heavy job losses have tended toward ideological extremes, replacing moderates with more conservative or liberal representatives."

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