Monday, February 18, 2013

Fooling You With Headlines

Beware of headlines. They are written to grab your attention, not to tell the truth. A few years ago I came across this one: "Holiday Sales Lowest in 30 Years." I found this impossible to believe. Were Americans really spending less money on presents than they did in the 1970s? Turns out the answer was no. It was only the growth in holiday sales that was the lowest in 30 years. Telling the truth, however, would not grab a lot of readers.

Today I came across another one of these lying headlines: "U.S. Minimum Wage is Low by Global Standards." Really? That sounds like a bit of a stretch. After all, we have all heard about exploited workers in China, the most populous nation in the world. And what about all those people in India and Africa who get by on very little? Is it really possible that the minimum wage in the U.S. is low by global standards?

Of course not. It turns out that the U.S. minimum wage is low only by the standards of the member countries of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). It's no surprise that China is not a member of the OECD. Neither is India nor any of the countries in Africa. The OECD is basically a group of the world's richest nations.

I'm not suggesting that the U.S. should be proud that its minimum wage falls only in the 38th percentile of this list of relatively wealthy nations, but that's a far cry from what the headline claims. But then again, telling the truth in a headline--"U.S. Minimum Wage is High by Global Standards" or even "U.S. Minimum Wage Not So Hot by Rich-Nation Standards"--probably wouldn't generate much interest.

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