Monday, April 23, 2018

OCPA column: PolitiFact’s Double Standard


PolitiFact’s Double Standard
by OCPA Fellow and Executive Vice President Trent England

When I moved to Oklahoma, I got a raise simply because things cost less here than in the Seattle area where I grew up. Housing, especially, is cheaper here than anywhere else I’ve lived.

So, it only seems fair to me, when comparing Oklahoma to other states, to consider differences in the cost of living. When you do, it turns out that Oklahoma does much better, and it exposes inconvenient truths, like the fact that California has the worst poverty in the country.

As Oklahomans debate education funding and teacher pay, people want to know: Where does our state rank compared to other states?

Considering the raw numbers: Oklahoma was near the bottom before the governor signed legislation to raise taxes and increase teacher pay (the average raise will be $6,100 per year). Yet when cost-of-living differences are factored in, even before the raise, Oklahoma teachers were somewhere in the 30s—not great, but hardly dead last.

The mainstream media’s self-appointed “fact-checkers” at PolitiFact, however, insist on ignoring this obvious economic reality. PolitiFact’s Jon Greenberg, writing about references to the cost of living in Oklahoma teacher pay debates, claims that “labor and education economists say it’s not that simple [to adjust for cost of living],” and declares that “people who study education labor markets raise big issues with using cost of living adjustments this way.”

The trouble is, PolitiFact is fine with considering cost-of-living differences in California or New York, just not in Oklahoma.

That statistic about California poverty? That comes from PolitiFact, which rated as “True” a claim that “California had the country’s worst poverty rate, after factoring in cost-of-living expenses.” PolitiFact’s explanation: “Experts said the distinction [cost-of-living differences] was important, because factors such as California’s huge housing costs affect the poverty rate.”

Another PolitiFact article evaluates a claim about “middle class” people in Manhattan by using an online cost-of-living calculator. It turns out that making adjustments for the cost of living is just fine—in coastal blue states, but not low-cost states in the heartland. Why?

This is a common trick used by those who want bigger government. By adjusting for cost of living in high-cost states, they make those states look poorer. Doing the opposite in low-cost states makes those states, places like Oklahoma, look poorer, too. So then everybody needs more government, right?

Some of the best things about states like Oklahoma is that the burden of government is lighter and life is somewhat less expensive. For its work on cost-of-living adjustments, PolitiFact has earned the rating: FALSE.

Trent England is a fellow and the executive vice president at The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (www.ocpathink.org).

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