Mark Twain famously said that there were three kinds of lies — “lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Since this is an election year, we can expect to hear plenty of all three kinds.
Even if the statistics themselves are absolutely accurate, the words that describe what they are measuring can be grossly misleading.
Household income statistics are an obvious example. When we hear about how much more income the top 20 percent of households make, compared to the bottom 20 percent of households, one key fact is usually left out. There are millions more people in the top 20 percent of households than in the bottom 20 percent of households.
The number of households is the same but the number of people in those households is very different. In 2002, there were 40 million people in the bottom 20 percent of households and 69 million people in the top 20 percent.