Be careful about income statistics

Letters to the editor

Posted: Friday, June 10, 2005

When reading Ben Madison's letter about wages and Wal-Mart I was confused by his misuse of statistics. According to the Census Bureau, $55,143 is the median household income in Alaska. It is not the median individual income, as the letter implies.

Many households have more than one person working and acquiring income. This means that the median income per worker is significantly lower than that. In context, the median hourly income figure of $25.40 does not imply anything. It is doubtful that 50 percent of Alaska workers make $25.40 an hour or more.

The median personal income is much lower than this. This suggests that the mean hourly income of $22 per person for males is higher than the median hourly income. If the median income were $22 an hour for males, then nearly half the men in Juneau would be earning more than that. The mean hourly income is higher than the median income due to a relatively small proportion of the population that have high salaries.

The letter selectively cites statistics in order to support a view that may or may not be accurate. Median household income and median individual income are not the same. Also median and mean have different definitions. The median is the 50th percentile, the mean is the average. The median is unaffected by statistical outliers, whereas the mean is.

Finally, the per-capita income figure of $26,719 for Juneau and annual wage figure of $22,401 for Wal-Mart workers is a comparison of two different things. Wal-Mart wages will increase the total amount of income in the city of Juneau. If the current population and employment trends in Juneau remain the same, Wal-Mart is added to the picture and they employ locals, the number of available jobs will increase and the per-capita income in Juneau will be increase slightly by adding money into the system but not adding people to the population.

The statistics cited do not suggest that Wal-Mart will have a detrimental effect on the city of Juneau.

Keith Bell


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