It seems every decade or so, there is a bout of paranoia about government statistics, to wit, a reader asserts the BLS is hiding data on median wages:
Scylla and Charybda. SSA doesn’t have any data since 2019. And BLS has no current data on median compensation at all, except in 1980 dollars or in indices.
I guess the American voter is just not supposed to know how the average American worker is doing in terms of wages at any given point in time. Personally, I’m glad that SSA has actually made data available that is easily comprehensible, even though it’s somewhat dated. It’s better than nothing.
Apparently only educated elites with sophisticated methods of calculating the data are supposed to know.
What’s wrong with that picture? What is the government hiding? And why?
When confronted with BLS series Employed full time: Median usual weekly real earnings: Wage and salary workers: 16 years and over (LES1252881600Q) stored as on FRED, the same reader writes:
The problem is that the BLS data series both track average wages over time. This can be verified by reflating 2019 BLS data from 1982 dollars to 2019 dollars and comparing the result to the SSA data, which is highly reliable, since it relies on IRS data.
In other words, he/she is saying what the BLS has labeled as median is actually average wages…
This episode reflects the general tendency among some commentators to reject or disparage the data (or accuse the government of malfeasance) when the data do not cooperate with a preferred narrative.
Paranoia is everywhere. For instance, regarding employment data, FoxNews is a purveyor, as are these examples: Senator Barraso, Jack Welch, former Rep. Allan West, Zerohedge . And who can forget longtime reader Ricardo (aka Dick/DickF/RicardoZ) writing in 2014:
…Our government is doing a serious disservice by falsifying the employment condition in our country. Policy changes that could actually help are being delayed with false information.
The belief the data is either by design or accident distorting the data is so widespread that even people who have PhD’s in finance have suspicions.
I would be the last one to assert government statistics are perfect. For instance, TIC data are known to have problems in tracking actual capital flows. GDP data are known to be revised. But the misleading conclusions usually arrive with the person with the narrative, not the persons generating the data (unless it’s ShadowStats).
I don’t usually end with a plea — but this time I do. Before one starts asserting that (1) the government statistical agency is hiding the data, (2) the government statistical agency is mislabeling the data, (3) the government statistical agency has miscalculated a growth rate, or ratio, or difference, please, please, please spend 15 seconds on FRED.
And before accusing your blogger of misattributing the data, please, please, please read the notes to graphs and at the data source portal (often FRED).