How to tell if information is skewed 101

Hey y’all! It’s been a crazy week for me, hence the relative quiet here this week. I wound up in New York City, where the liberalism is awesome but the trash smell isn’t.

I’m back and catching up on my local politics, when I stumbled on this: Minimum Wage Hike in Nebraska Sometimes Would Have Little Effect. Set aside the sheer, unbridled sexiness and allure of that tantalizingly wordy and nearly nonsensical headline, and you get the clear sense that somebody is about to bamboozle the shit out of you. There are like three quasi-qualifiers in there (sometimes, would, and little). So, this isn’t a statement that minimum wage ISN’T a good idea or WOULDN’T work. Just that “sometimes” it “would” have “little” effect. And yet the end result is that you feel like the headline IS saying Minimum Wage Hikes Suck. It’s the sort of shitty sleight of hand that allows a paper to pass off biased non-news as news.

But let’s get up in the guts of this sucker so you can see why it’s damaging that Omaha’s only major news outlet is basically skewing things.

First sentence:

For thousands of Nebraska workers, raising the state’s minimum wage would mean bigger paychecks.

Ah, yes, now I see why the headline is so critical because…wait…that’s a good thing. Thousands of workers gettin’ mo money doesn’t sound like a “little” effect. Hmmm… What’s next then?

The potential negative effects, cited by business interests, include price increases and inflation for consumers, plus job cuts, reduced working hours and slower job creation.

“Potential negative effects” cited by people who don’t want to pay their workers more money. So, basically what you’re saying is people who are against this are nebulously saying bad things MAY happen without any proof. This despite the fact that the author already admitted that it would DEFINITELY “mean bigger paychecks.”

How to tell if information is skewed tip number 1 – A definitive is compared with a maybe

Next we move into the specific:

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said 29,000 people in Nebraska earned the minimum wage or less. A 2013 study by a group that favors a higher minimum wage estimated that 97,000 Nebraskans make $9 or less per hour.

 

Mike Patel, owner of the Relax Inn at 60th and L Streets, said some of his cleaning crew members earn the minimum wage, and a higher minimum wage would mean cutting back their hours or eliminating a job.

 

He said he can’t raise room rates because of competition, which already is cutting into his revenue

It’s possible Patel is right. But, bear in mind, he hasn’t actually run the numbers, nor has he tried even the tiniest of rate increases. Presumably, he doesn’t have a staff of hundreds. Let’s say that he has a cleaning staff of 50. If they make $7.25 right now, and that goes to 9 bucks, that’s $1.75 per hour per worker increased. Assuming a worker averages 30 hours (most minimum wage jobs are part time, so it is likely way less), that’s 1500 hours of labor a week. That means each week, it’s an additional $2625 of labor. Nothing specifies the number of rooms total at the hotel, but this picture would lead me to believe it has to be somewhere around 100.

5103894

Current rates are about $65 a night. Let’s say on a given night, an average of 30 of those 100 rooms are filled. That’s 210 rooms rented out a week. That means to COMPLETELY offset this minimum wage increase using the most insanely conservative estimates, rates would have to increase 12 bucks. If the hotel actually has 200 rooms and rents an average of 60 of those a night, it’s 6 bucks to offset it.

Is it possible that Patel is right? Sure. I could be dramatically off. But bear in mind if his staff is less than 50 (which it probably is), if they each work less than 30 hours a week (which they probably do), and if he AVERAGES 30 hotel rooms rented a night (including weekends), that number falls down to mere pocket change in terms of a rate increase.

How to tell if information is skewed tip number 2 – Anecdotal evidence is weighted equally to actual evidence

Here’s another good one:

But one increase often leads to others, he said. “A $15 minimum wage? We get real nervous. That would likely create a 20 or 30 percent increase in prices every place.”

Gee, you mean that if the minimum wage were to raise to double what it is now, it would be a different conversation? Maybe that’s why we’re not doing that right now… Are you kidding me with this? Nobody here is talking about a $15 minimum wage. We’re FIGHTING for a $9 one! And again, this information gets included like there’s any basis in reality here.

How to tell if information is skewed tip number 3 – Doomsday “worst case” scenarios are presented as potential facts

Then they talk to an economist! HUZZAH! A person with ACTUAL KNOWLEDGE! And yet, THIS IS WHAT THEY PRINT FROM HIM:

That means the impact of raising the minimum to $8 may be small, but raising it to $9 will be larger, he said.

 

It’s uncertain whether a higher minimum wage results in more overall economic activity, he said. Although low-wage people may have more income, if jobs or hours are lost, the net effect could be less economic activity.

So you get an economist in front of you. The first thing you credit coming out of his mouth is that $9 is bigger than $8. For real. That’s what that first part says.

Then you state that “it’s uncertain” whether it will increase economic activity. It may, though. And the second half of the statement is “if something bad happens…something bad will happen.” There are so many moving targets and variables here it’s insane. I’m not saying it’s the economist’s fault. Who knows what he said and how it was repackaged. But what’s missing in all of this is anything tangible and known.

Oh, and here are a few knowns:

1.) Historically, minimum wage increases have NOT led to less employment.

2.) Historically, minimum wage increases have been triggers for economic growth.

That’s empirical, historical data. Not “well, if bad things happen, worse things will happen.” It’s concrete. We’ve seen time and again that the doomsday predictions don’t actually pan out.

How to tell if information is skewed tip number 4 – Experts don’t actually say anything that requires expertise

If you read the article as a whole, here’s what you won’t find: One single, solitary, provable, definitive FACT that suggests minimum wage increases will EVER hurt anything. The best that article could do would be to suggest that if every single business owner who is against this is somehow correct in their doomsday predictions, it MAY be bad.

I’m not suggesting the author decided to write an anti-minimum wage piece because the Omaha World Herald instructed her too. I think this is a case of the fallacy of “two equal sides.” We’re always told that there are “two sides to every story.” Yeah, but those two sides aren’t always EQUAL.

It bothers me that the biggest paper in our region runs crap like this: a fluffy, inconclusive set of rumors passed off as facts. Because people then connect the dots that aren’t connectable and pass this kind of story off as “proof.”

The battle of the electorate is really the battle to stay informed with real news and facts. If you’re looking to be informed, this is the kind of article to skip.

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