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Mind Your Data

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Editor:

Your statement that the "average proprietor" of a Humboldt business earned just over $21,000 and that, given what public employees earn, "no wonder the Tea Party has a local following" missed the mark. ("Boomerangers," Feb. 3)

First: It's inaccurate to say that the "average proprietor" earns that. In this context, "average" suggests "typical." While "average earnings" are $21,000, that includes everything from large contractors to artists who sell a few paintings but live off a teaching job.

Second: This figure seems to represent year-end corporate profits. It does not include salaries that business owners pay themselves, or rental and other income. Business owners can be paid a salary and still not show a profit at year-end.

Third: Comparing this misleading statistic to the salaries of government employees is exactly the sort of misinformation that fuels the Tea Party. I want our police officers, firefighters and teachers to be paid a salary equal to their experience and education. To make the comparison, you'd need to, for instance, compare the earnings of a private paving contractor to that of a public employee who does comparable road work.

Also, business owners have the opportunity to earn far more if they are successful. Public employees never do, but they choose to serve the public regardless. No matter how many lives a public health nurse saves, no matter how many jobs are created by a redevelopment project, and no matter how many fires a firefighter puts out, they will never see a bonus or profits. Their salaries reflect the cost of keeping smart, capable people from joining the private sector and having a shot at bigger financial rewards.

This kind of misuse of data only makes it harder for us to have an informed discussion about our economy.

Amy Stewart, Eureka

 

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