Why You Should Always Account for Inflation: A Case Study

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.

Ryan Chittum points out a good example today of how misleading news reports can be when they fail to account for inflation. Here’s a sentence from a recent Wall Street Journal piece on cell phones:

Americans spent $116 more a year on telephone services in 2011 than they did in 2007, according to the Labor Department, even as total household expenditures increased by just $67.

And here’s what that sentence would look like if those numbers were adjusted for inflation:

Even as total household expenditures plummeted by $4,146, spending on phones continued to rise, with Americans shelling out $22 more a year on telephone services in 2011 than they did in 2007, according to the Labor Department.

So the Journal missed a bet. The gist of their piece is that phone bills are eating up a bigger chunk of middle-class incomes, and for my money, the inflation-adjusted figures make that point a lot better. After all, which is more dramatic? Spending $116 more while incomes are flat, or spending $22 more even as your income falls through the floor? Your mileage may vary, but I’d choose the latter.

Not that it really matters. The inflation-adjusted figures are the more accurate ones. Whenever possible (and with occasional exceptions for specific reasons), they’re the ones you should always use.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate