Follow-Up On Kaus’s Critique of the NYT on SPM

by Reihan Salam

In Mickey Kaus’s post on the New York Times’s coverage of the new Supplemental Poverty Measure, he offered the following conjecture:

”Another surprising finding is that only a quarter of the near poor are insured, and 42 percent have private insurance.” Huh? I suspect DeParle and his co authors meant that only a quarter are uninsured–the only way to make sense of the sentence, given that more than a quarter have private insurance (and many of the rest are old and on Medicare). The Times reporters were probably led into error by their copyeditors, who didn’t understand how a scare piece about poverty could have a vaguely reassuring statistic, or who were just on Nina Bernstein Autopilot and let the “un” drop. I mean, if only a quarter are uninsured why publish the piece? How does that help the cause? 

Whether or not Kaus is fair to impute motives to the NYT staff, it seems that he was right:

An article on Saturday about a new Census Bureau count that put the number of people with incomes less than 50 percent above the poverty line — a group known as the “near poor” — far higher than previously thought described the health care for a quarter of that group incorrectly. They are uninsured; it is not the case that they have health insurance.

Unfortunately, the wording is rather confusing, though I’m confident that it will be made clearer.