U of M Professor tries to explain statistics to Almanac hosts

University of Minnesota Professor Sam Myers appeared on Almanac last night  and questioned the statistics used for the widely-cited federal survey data that purportedly shows that Minnesota ranks 45th nationally–worse than Mississippi– for black family income.

The Professor pointed out that the survey only included those who indicated themselves as “black” and not of multi-racial background.  He also said he couldn’t reproduce the finding that there was a $4,000 drop in median income for black households, based on any previous data.  The Star Tribune reported the survey numbers with a dramatic headline, “Black household income plunges in one year in Minnesota.”  Yesterday the paper featured a commentary by Louis J. King III, president of Summit Academy, reiterating the point that “Minnesota now trails Mississippi when it comes to median household income for blacks.”  As a solution, King called for an increase in SNAP (food stamp) benefits and an increase in job training program spending,

But are the statistics valid?  Not according to Professor Myers who stated, “I looked at every single year of the American Community survey 1% sample between 2000 and 2013…… six of those years, black income went up, seven of those years, black income went down.  But, the long term trend was a positive trend.”

“I don’t know anybody who uses that 1% sample…..You should use a 5% sample, there is a 5% sample.”  Myers said.

Professor Sam Myers
Professor Sam Myers

When the Professor used the 5% sample and ran the numbers based on four different income indicators, he emphatically stated, “in none of them is the measure of the black income in Minnesota lower than it is in Mississippi.” Myers pointed out that white incomes are much higher in Minnesota, which accounts for the larger gap.  Per Myers, in Minnesota, blacks earn about 65 cents on the dollar vs. whites.

Yet even after Myers explained that a higher denominator in Minnesota (for white income,) means a larger gap between income levels, longtime Almanac host Cathy Wurzer questioned the persistence of the gap in Minnesota.

“I don’t conclude that blacks are better off in Mississippi than in Minnesota,” Myers repeated.

By the end, Wurzer and Eric Eskola simply looked confused by the logic.

Myers is the Chair of the Roy Wilkins Center for Human Rights and Social Justice at the Humphrey Institute.