What are the most cited statistics on race, gender, and class? What do they mean?

The most cited statistic on racial discrimination relates to differentials in incarceration rates. Black males are 6X more likely to be incarcerated than white males. But what exactly does that prove?

Males are 10X more likely to be incarcerated than females. Is that evidence of gender discrimination against men? Of course not: the differential in male versus female incarceration rates relates to the differential in crime rates. The same is true for the incarceration of black versus white males.

The most cited statistic on gender discrimination is that women earn $.77 on the dollar. This is often interpreted as meaning that that women are paid 23% less for the same work. That is not what this statistic means. This statistic is generated by dividing total earnings of all men by the number of men and the total earnings of all women by the number of women and comparing the two. But women do not work the same jobs. They prefer jobs in lower paying sectors of the economy such as social service. They also favor jobs with flexible hours. Adjusting for all these very important factors, the gap shrinks dramatically.

The most cited statistic on economic injustice is that the top 1% earn 20% of total income as if on the face of it that is unfair and justifies every higher taxes on the top 1%. The assumption is that the top 1% avoid taxes thanks to clever lawyers and accountants. In fact, the top 1% pay 40% of all income taxes.

If you look at the income distribution by quintile you will find that the top quintile earns 10X as much as those in the bottom quintile. But the top quintile on average work 8X more hours than the bottom quintile and tend to be older and more productive.

To base political arguments on numbers that aren’t appropriately adjusted is a form of fraud. Happily for those who perpetrate it, this form of fraud is protected by the First Amendment.

This is not to say that there race and gender discrimination does not exist or that economic inequality isn’t real. The point is not to be misled by aggregate statistics that seem to mean one thing and don’t.