Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Calamity Numbers Again

John showcases another of those collections of stats designed to remind us of how bad off we are (link). I've no doubt that these are mostly on the right track, but still it is always easy to flyspeck this kind of summary. For example, we are told that 61 percent "'always or usually' live from paycheck to paycheck."(link). This is said to be "up from 43 percent in 2007." I'll take these numbers at face value, but I wonder how much of my life my father and mother spent living paycheck to paycheck: I suspect the answer is--every hour of their adult life. And I'm sure they counted as "middle class," if marginally so.

But more puzzling: "36 percent of Americans say that they don't contribute anything to retirement savings." (link). Very well, but does this mean that 64 percent do contribute something to retirement? Sounds like a lot. And there's an arithmetic overlap with those living paycheck to paycheck. Are we counting retirement contributions as part of that "paycheck" scenario?

Or is the point that "A staggering 43 percent of Americans have less than $10,000 saved up for retirement." (link). Does that mean that almost half of those who are contributing to retirement savings are paying just pennies a week? Or (more likely, I suspect) that we've got some self-delusion at work here--that lots of people think they are contributing to retirement when in fact they are not?

By the way, that 36 percent who contribute nothing--I assume we are not talking about people who are already retired? Are we talking about people for whom retirement contributions have been made by others? People (all right, this is a stretch) who figure they have contributed enough?

In a different vein, I got a laugh out of: "For the first time in U.S. history, banks own a greater share of residential housing net worth in the United States than all individual Americans put together. "link. "Housing net worth," measured how, exactly? I wouldn't be surprised if the bank is carrying all this stuff at no less than the amount of the outstanding loan, which means the bankers are lying to themselves at least as much as they habitually lie to us. In any event, for "own," I would substitute "are stuck with." I'm sire the bank is no happier to have all this distress real estate than we would be.

No comments: