Beat the Press

Dean Baker's commentary on economic reporting


Adjust for Inflation -- Minimal Demand on Minimum Wage Reporting

Reporters should always use inflation adjusted numbers when making comparisons of dollar values at substantially different points in time. A dollar is worth much less today than it was 20 or 30 years ago. While most readers may know this, they do not typically have ready access to the consumer price index tables, so they will not generally be able to adjust the numbers themselves.

Reporters, who write news stories for a living, do have the time to adjust numbers for inflation and should routinely do so in their news stories. This means that when an article tells readers that a bill in Congress will raise the minimum wage to $7.15 an hour in 2007, from 5.15 an hour at present, it would be helpful to tell readers that this is equal to approximately $5.32 in 1997 dollars, the year the last minimum wage hike took full effect. This means that minimum wage workers would get about a 3.0 percent increase in real wages from 1997 to 2007, if this bill was approved.


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