Discover more from Understandably by Bill Murphy Jr.
Really not sure what to make of this
How does it fall to me to point this out? Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
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Hmmm… I guess: $800,000?
A Wharton professor went viral recently after tweeting that she’d asked her students to guess the average U.S. worker’s income.
Here’s the tweet. Maybe you saw it. Hundreds of thousands of people did.
This prompted a barrage of negative stories making fun of Wharton students for being so wildly out of touch with America. Examples:
Far be it from me to want to be the one defending the most privileged and wealthy portion of our society—and students at Wharton are either in that group or else have a golden ticket to join it.
But on the plain language of this hyper-viral tweet, doesn't it seem like people got this completely backward?
Obviously, income inequality is real. Obviously, some people are really hurting in this country. And obviously, Wharton students should be standing up for themselves, not having me making their case for them.
Still, I think facts matter. The tweet is now a week old, but I waited to write about this because I wanted to ask Professor Strohminger if I misunderstood something here.
It’s been a couple of days, and I haven’t heard back despite sending an email, a voicemail, and tweeting “@” her.
So let’s break it down. Three points, really:
First, the tweet says the average U.S. income is $45,000. That’s simply wrong, at least according to the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Labor Department. It’s roughly $53,000. (I asked Strohminger for a source on the $45,000, but again: no reply.)
Next, Strohminger says 25 percent of her students thought the real average income was over $100,000. But doesn’t that mean 75 percent of her students knew that it was *under* $100,000? (I asked Strohminger to clarify, and to comment on how many students she asked, and what the distribution was. But, no reply.)
Finally, there’s the question of this student who supposedly thinks the average U.S. worker makes $800,000. As I wrote to Strohminger:
Crazy. But could he or she have misunderstood the question? As an example, U.S. household net worth is ~$745k, according to the Fed, so $800k would be quite close.
Or did someone really think that the average U.S. worker takes home that kind of money?
Anyway, the whole thing is being ensconced in the lexicon of the 2020s, so I suppose I’m tilting at windmills again, and not even for a particularly sympathetic group.
I mean: It’s easy for it just to “feel like” Wharton students would be so out of touch with the rest of the world, right? It’s almost too good to check, to use a dated, 20th-century journalism term.
Moreover, this is by no means the most egregious time we’ve seen misconceptions or even “alternative facts” take hold as if they were concrete.
But if I’m looking at the numbers right, it is one of the most clearly drawn ones—and so obviously and quickly misconstrued.
Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe I’m wrong.
Maybe, “Privileged students were pretty much in the right ballpark when they were asked how much the average U.S. worker makes” would have gone just as viral.
Maybe we all know that’s not true.
And maybe it’s worthwhile to wonder who benefits from manufactured outrage—not just in this case, but in every case—and from casual facts that come to mean the literal opposite.
Because maybe, real privilege is knowing that you’re privileged enough not to care.
7 other things worth knowing today
The Biden administration is withdrawing its Covid-19 vaccination and testing regulation aimed at large businesses, following the Supreme Court's decision to block the rule earlier this month. (CNN)
Most overpriced urban real estate in America? The cities of Idaho (Boise, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho Falls, etc.) This is according to Fitch Ratings, a leading provider of credit ratings, commentary, and research for global capital markets. (Axios)
Super Bowl halftime show dancers raise concerns over 72 hours of unpaid labor. (WeGotThisCovered)
Where are the flying cars? Slovakia, where a futuristic flying car that can reach 8,000 feet and travel 100 mph is now officially certified to fly, after passing safety tests. (Daily Mail)
CBS News was ready to offer the anchor chair on its nightly newscast to Brian Williams, the former NBC anchor who was demoted in disgrace after exaggerating his wartime experiences as a journalist, but who then spent years rehabilitating himself and anchoring an apparently successful show on MSNBC. Williams turned down the offer. (CNN)
Two policies at the Olympics in Beijing: First, athletes will be instructed to minimize physical interactions to prevent COVID spread, like “hugs, high-fives, and handshakes.” Second, organizers also plan to make unlimited free condoms available. (Reuters)
Toddler clears out mom's online shopping cart, orders $2,000 worth of items from Walmart. (Yahoo News)