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Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan September 8, 2008

Trend is right but numbers are wrong

Update: The Obama campaign provided new information after we first published this item. We've included the additional material, but it doesn't change our ruling.

In making his case for the presidency at the Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama cited statistics to argue that Americans have lost economic ground during the Bush administration.

"We measure progress by how many people can find a job that pays the mortgage, whether you can put away a little extra money at the end of each month so that you can someday watch your child receive her diploma," Obama said in Denver on Aug. 28, 2008. "We measure progress in the 23-million new jobs that were created when Bill Clinton was president, when the average American family saw its income go up $7,500 instead of down $2,000 like it has under George Bush."

We looked up the income numbers to see what happened to incomes during the Clinton years. We found Obama is correct that incomes went up under Clinton but dropped under Bush. But the numbers he uses aren't right.

We looked to the U.S. Census report Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2007. Numbers in the report are adjusted for inflation and reflect 2007 dollar values. The report indicates that median household income during the Bush administration dropped from $50,557 in 2000 to $50,233 in 2007, a decline of $324. Under Bill Clinton, median household income rose from $44,359 in 1992 to $50,557 in 2000, an increase of $6,198.

The Obama campaign uses different numbers to calculate income. They look at households in which the age of the householder is under age 65. The campaign believes this more accurately reflects earnings power for workers, because seniors have Social Security income that automatically rises with inflation.

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During the course of our research, we found a commentary written by one of Obama's economic advisers that cited the numbers Obama used, with the caveat that it applied to "working-age households." That would leave out seniors, and could conceivably change the numbers we found in the census. (The article didn't include a citation.) Obama didn't use the "working-age" caveat in his speech.

Using those numbers, inflation-adjusted income goes from $51,039 in 1992 to $58,555 in 2000 to $56,545 in 2007. That comes to a drop of $2,010 during the Bush administration and an increase of $7,516 during the Clinton administration. (Note if you want to do your own calculations at home: Pull them from Census reports from the respective years, then use the more technical CPI-U-RS inflation calculator found here .)

Having said all that, Obama didn't mention working-age families as part of his speech.

Obama is right with the overall point he's making. Incomes did rise under Clinton and decline under Bush. But the numbers he uses don't include seniors, who today represent about 12 percent of the population. So we rate his statement only Half True.

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