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DISPUTATIONS: ‘You Have Your Numbers, I Have Mine.’

A response to Jesse Singal.

Good job on Jesse Singal’s article (“From Mississippi to ‘The Corner’: A Tale of Right-Wing Wrongness,” February 8) picking apart my welfare chart apart. It’s an excellent counterpoint and adds to the debate. Despite your take on the various benefits calculations, I believe my argument still stands: That our generous welfare state provides disincentives to work. The hundreds (thousands?) of anecdotal confirmations of my chart in the blogosphere indicates there is, at least, some merit to this line of thinking. What did Mark Twain say about statistics? The chart hit a nerve, which I believe discredits your characterization that it has zero “relevance or legitimacy.” Such hyperbole in criticizing what you consider to be my hyperbole reminds me of the old saying about the pot calling the kettle black.

If you read my original article, I describe my very simple and modest methodology. I wrote, “It is quite easy to check my numbers, thanks to the Internet. In fact, it only took me a couple of hours on the net to gather this data. Almost all welfare programs have Web sites where you can call up ‘benefits calculators.’ Just plug in your income and family size and, presto, your benefits are automatically calculated.” I challenged readers to verify my data. Many did. In fact, many contended that I had underestimated benefits, just as you contend I overestimated benefits. Be that as it may, in a country where the GAO estimates 68 percent of the tax returns have errors, your confidence in welfare exactitude is a bit much.

There are literally dozens of paycheck calculators on the Internet. Just Google “paycheck calculator” and enter $60,000 of gross pay and you will arrive at my number. I have no idea who the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is, but their computation of payroll taxes on $60,000 in pay is at odds with every payroll calculator on the Internet. I’ll go with my figures. As for the distinction of gross pay and taxable income, this is ridiculous. Gross pay is gross pay. It is what an employer pays you. Again, just Google “gross pay” on the Internet and you can read about this for days.

In regards to the biggest ticket item of the chart—medical costs—I used a national average. You used a much-lower Mississippi number. As you wish. I just Googled “average cost of family health insurance per month” and was directed to the Kaiser Family Foundation, which states the cost is $1,147 per month. This figure is twice what you claim in your critique. So be it. You have your numbers, I have mine. Add co-pays and deductibles, and you easily get to the $16,000 or so number in my article. I believe this is a legitimate valuation of medical benefits. Obviously, you don’t.

All that being said, you do raise one very valid point. Things get distorted and taken out of context. If I’m not mistaken, rumor mills have existed since the dawn of time. The Internet just makes them more efficient. Indeed, distortion and numeric manipulation are not new to the Internet. As your distortion of my original article in the venerable New Republic clearly illustrates.

Wyatt Emmerich is president of Emmerich Newspapers and lives in Mississippi.

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