Is your Income Rising? The Government Says It Is

David Reavill
3 min readJun 1, 2024

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Money?

You were probably as surprised as I was when you read that Incomes rose last month. It was all bundled as part of a news story outlining inflation, spending, and personal income.

Listening to the Press reports it all seems superb. Core Inflation, read the headlines, was the lowest in three years, while personal spending and incomes were higher.

I don’t know about you, but I thought they must be talking about someone else because my household’s income hasn’t increased at all. It seems like we have less money to spend, not more.

Something is wrong. Either my experience is a total outlier, or the Government Reports must be off.

These statistics are based on the monthly government figures reporting on inflation and income, so I thought I better go to the Bureau of Economic Analysis website and see which one it is.

Am I the only one in America experiencing a shrinking paycheck? Or are the Government numbers somehow out of kilter?

Sure enough, in the very first sentence, Personal Income was up 3/10th percent. Good news, don’t you think?

Well, not so fast.

Experience has taught me that Government headlines are occasionally slanted. Although they may be accurate as far as they go, they don’t go far enough. Listening to the “official” economic report is often misleading.

The best way I can explain it is that it’s like a restaurant review that only mentions the appetizer. While the salad may be wonderful and the shrimp cocktail to die for, the rest of the meal could be a disaster. The steak was tough and overcooked, and the baked potato was burnt.

You get the idea — half a report is no report at all.

And that’s just how Friday’s report on Personal Income was. As I read through the report, I came to an item labeled Real Disposable Personal Income. That’s what economists call the income we can spend freely — the money left after we pay all our bills and AFTER inflation.

This is the critical number to know if you want to understand what’s really happening in the economy: Real Personal Disposable Income. As you know, prices continue to escalate, the cost of living is rising, and it takes more dollars just to maintain our lifestyle, meager though it may be!

So, how is our income in real terms? Not all current dollars are driven by inflation, but actual dollars are the dollars we can spend. The headline report says that we’re doing pretty good; in the last three months, our income has increased every single month. But those are current dollars, dollars that are elevated because of inflation. They’re also dollars that are reduced in buying power. But you already knew that. Your dollars today buy less than just a few years ago.

So, back to the question: How is our income in real terms? (Adjusted for inflation) This is a very different story. Here, we see that real disposable income has been down in two out of the past three months. Our real dollars have declined in value. We have fewer dollars to shop with, pay the bills, or save and invest.

This is reality, and it’s just what you and I thought when we first heard the report: We’re losing ground financially. Inflation is eating away at our wallets. We all knew this intuitively, but it took the Government Report nine paragraphs to come to the same conclusion.

Why?

It’s how the American government operates in the 21st Century.

There is bias in the information coming out of Washington. This is not to say that information is wrong; it’s just not the whole story. It’s like our example of the Restaurant Review. The reports are accurate, and the appetizers are wonderful. But that’s as far as our Press will go. Buried deep down in the Review was the news that the steak was uneatable and the potato should be thrown out.

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David Reavill

David Reavill writer + finance +iconoclast + hiker + Pennsylvania #valueside daily podcast + medium + meditate valueside.com/links