Bias in the 'Other'

August 10, 2016

Often graphs and figures have a curious slice or section labelled ‘other.’ When this comes to displaying how much public money is dedicated to this or that, this is more than a simple annoyance. It’s usually cause for concern; it’s sign of a lie. 

 

I’ve been looking for spending on low-income social programs on the state and local levels. I came across two pie charts that are suppose to report, essentially the same data - the percentage of all state and local budgets dedicated to different purposes. 

 

First look at the left-leaning Center for Budget and Policy Priorities:

 Now look at the more center, but still left-leaning, Urban Institute: 

 

For the CBPP, which has the interest in understating the size of the American welfare state so as to claim it ought to grow, says public assistance is about 1 percent of state spending. 

 

The Urban Institute, which has less obvious motives to under or overstate any section of the budget, claims that 18.8 percent of state and local spending is dedicated to welfare or low-income programs. 

 

As you will notice by looking at the note under the CBPP chart, many of the programs that the Urban Institute consider public welfare are placed in the ‘Other’ category.

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