Middle Class Income: Pandagon v. Bartlett

Pandagon’s Don’t Pay Attention To Your Wallet…It’s Being Silly takes on this Bruce Bartlett oped by noting:

The gist of it is that the middle class is only shrinking because it’s getting richer. Bartlett presents a variety of statistics, which might be persuasive but for one niggling problem. Real income is going down. Everything Bartlett uses to “prove” his point is kind of negated by the very real decrease in incomes.

Table A-1 of Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2003 from the Census Bureau shows median real income (2003$) from 1967 to 2003. Note the following data:

Year Income

1967 $33,338

1979 $38,649

1993 $39,165

1999 $44,992

2003 $43,318

So median real income in 2003 was only 96.3% of its 1999 value, which is Pandagon’s point. So what was Mr. Bartlett trying to say? Bartlett was complaining about an August 28 piece by Timothy Egan using some very partisan language. At one point Bartlett writes:

First, it is important to know the data in the Times story are adjusted for inflation. This is mentioned in a footnote to the chart, but nowhere else in the article.

Of course, I used the real income data from Table A-1 of this Census report so let me state this clearly. But I hope Mr. Bartlett would not have us do otherwise. But here is what Bartlett’s frustration with Egan’s article seems to be:

The clear implication is the middle class has suffered under Republican policies — why else start in 1980, the year Ronald Reagan was elected? If the chart had started in 1992, the year Bill Clinton was elected, it would have shown the exact same trend.

Pandagon and Bartlett were talking about two different time spans. Mr. Egan’s article states:

Senator John Kerry says the middle class has shrunk since President Bush took office, and when judged by the percentage of Americans who made $25,000 to $75,000 in 2003 – 45 percent of households – he is right, according to factcheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center that monitors campaign claims.

So Pandagon was noting the same period that Egan noted.

It is true that real income rose by 16.4% over the 20 year period from 1979 to 1999, but the growth for the first 14 years of the time span was just over 1.3% with real income growing by almost 15% during the last 6 years. Also note that median real income grew by almost 16% from 1967 to 1979.

I don’t wish to sound partisan so let me leave Democrat v. Republican out of this and simply note that the two periods where median real income grew rapidly were periods of fiscal responsibility whereas the Reagan-Bush41 and the Bush43 periods were ones where policymakers pretended to give people their money back but never bothered to cut government spending. Mr. Bartlett preaches the virtues of savings for long-term growth as passionately as I do. And his critiques of Bush43’s fiscal recklessness and trade protection are quite good coming from someone who writes for NRO. We know he would prefer a smaller government, but why does he carry the water for Administration’s who only pretend they do and then wreck fiscal responsibility and the savings necessary for long-term growth?