Beware Misrepresented Data

Published at 21:59 on 6 August 2021

There are plenty of graphics like the following one circulating on social media:

If true, such statistics are shocking. A significant number of major cities where over half of households face eviction? That’s a major, major social crisis in the works! And the source is a US Census survey, not some dubious polling outfit one has never heard of.

Turns out, not nearly so much. Here is the actual household pulse survey data from the US Census Bureau. Note the caption: “Percentage of adults living in households not current on rent or mortgage where eviction or foreclosure in the next two months is either very likely or somewhat likely [emphasis added].” Not the percentage of all adults, just the percentage who are already behind. Here is a related set of data showing those who are behind and have little hope of ever catching up.

Take Mississippi, one of the worst states, for example. 12.3% of adults live in households that are behind, and of that number, 60.5% are at risk of eviction. The actual fraction of adults in the overall population at risk is therefore more like 60.5% of 12.3%, or 7.4%. That’s still not an insignificant number, but it is far less than 60.5%.

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