An Information Deficit

In a nearly numbers-free New York Times “News Analysis” of the federal budget Elisabeth Bumiller describes the projected federal budget deficit ($477 billion for 2004, according to the Congressional Budget Office or $521 billion by the White House’s estimate) as “record-high.”

The truth? Yes, in raw dollar terms.

The whole truth? No.

As a percentage of the gross domestic product — which many economists consider a better measure than simple dollar amounts — the currently projected deficit, at 4.2 percent according to the Congressional Budget Office or 4.5 percent according to the Bush administration, is equal to or smaller than those recorded in six years during the 1980s and 1990s (6.0 percent in 1983, 4.8 percent in 1984, 5.1 percent in 1985, 5.0 percent in 1986, 4.5 percent in 1991, and 4.7 percent in 1992).

But then, like many reporters, Bumiller doesn’t appear to be particularly good when it comes to numbers.

Hey — none of us got into this field because we were strong in math.

—Liz Cox Barrett

Note: White House estimates of the 2004 deficit have been added to the above post since it was first published.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.