Post-modernism and the media

Two diametrically opposed takes on the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ newly released 2009-10 Household Expenditure Survey:

Spending survey busts struggling families myth (ABC news item):

Claims that many Australians are doing it tough and households are being weighed down by the soaring cost of living no longer match up with the facts.

A comprehensive analysis of household spending by the Bureau of Statistics shows that in real terms we are richer than we were six years ago, and while we’re spending more on essentials like housing and transport, we are also spending more on recreation.

Incomes have risen 50 per cent and that suggests that although we may be paying more for goods and services, we are consuming more as well.

Snapshot of a nation under stress (The Australian):

ONE in four households relies on welfare benefits while one in seven is spending more than it earns, as increasing cost-of-living pressures bear down on families. …

Of the nation’s poorest households, one in 10 went without meals and 7.3 per cent could not afford to heat their homes in winter during 2009-10, according to a six-yearly snapshot of spending by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Australians are having to spend more than half their income on the basics – housing, food and transport – as the soaring cost of living bites into spending on life’s luxuries. One in eight households could not pay their bills on time.

The ABS household expenditure survey reveals that households are under as much financial stress now as in the lead-up to the 1998 east Asian economic crash.

The “financial stress” afflicted some of the nation’s wealthiest people, with almost one in seven high-earning households failing to pay bills on time and 8.8 per cent seeking financial help from friends and family.

Try this quick quiz.  Which story gives a more accurate picture of the ABS survey? Hint – It isn’t Rupert’s “journal of record”.  How unusual.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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billie
billie
10 years ago

I would like to think that the ABC is more accurate than The Australian but Lexie Metherell @ ABC talked in terms of average household spend of $1240 per week ie annual income of $85,000+.

Contrast that with the item by Tim Napper @ http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/2873144.html who said median income in Australia as a whole in 2009 was $44,000

The Australian reports that 1 in 4 households relies on welfare payments. I can’t feel sympathy towards a family on $150,000 who can’t budget – they are in the top 1.5% of incomes.

I don’t care how its dressed up people on low incomes in Australia, lets use the ATO low income threshhold of $30,000, will have noticed the increase in gas, electricity, fixed phone and food prices.

Lexie Metherell and the ABC need to learn the difference between a few basic statistical terms like average or mean, and median

Pedro
Pedro
10 years ago

I wonder if the govt was reversed would the reporting have reversed as well?

john walker
john walker
10 years ago

It would depend on where you live , the median income in the community I live in is about 35 thou. However costs of real estate are lower and many own outright or have small mortgages – mortgage stress is not as common.

I think Measures of mortgage stress are possibly a better indicator of ‘stress’ than measures of income . Over time they have been a pretty good indicator of major shifts in voting patterns.
The bell-whether seat I live in , Eden Monaro went against the trend at the last election.

derida derider
derida derider
10 years ago

“I don’t care how its dressed up people on low incomes in Australia, lets use the ATO low income threshhold of $30,000, will have noticed the increase in gas, electricity, fixed phone and food prices.” – billie

Which is another misunderstanding on your part – though one shared with a lot of the journalists. The ABS study doesn’t deny that those prices went up. People noticed them alright, but they responded to the price rises by economising on these things to keep up their spending on other things. That’s why, with the partial exception of food, their total share of spending didn’t change much.

That is great news for advocates of a carbon price – it shows that we don’t need to wear very much pain to get a huge gain in the form of reduced emissions, because people have shown their ability to respond to price signals for these particular products.

The ABS had a 20 page special feature article in this release examining the positon of low income people rather than the population generally. Maybe you ought to take the trouble to read some of it before just saying “that can’t be right!”.

Peter Whiteford
Peter Whiteford
10 years ago

I think we’ve now got a post-modern public – looking at some of the comments at http://www.theage.com.au/money/spending-survey-shows-we-are-better-off-than-we-think-20110906-1jw1z.html

billie
billie
10 years ago

Actually the ABS statistics are for 2008/09 the electricity price has risen dramatically in the past 2 years. I am still waiting for the electricity authority to send me a correct bill, I get multiple bills every billing cycle – I would change billers but the problem is with the data centre that processes the bills Hansen Technologies.

An income of $85,000 translates to an after tax income of $64,000.

As one third of Australian households are single adults the median individual income isn’t insignificant and as the median adult female wage is $44,000 I think that the ABS media release glosses over the plight of low income households.

I smell some slick statistics in the media release, yes people will have changed their expenditure to meet their electricity bills

Peter Whiteford
Peter Whiteford
10 years ago

Billie

the figures refer to 2009-10 – still a while ago, but not two years.

I must say I’m not sure where Tim Napper got his figures for 2008-09 from, since there wasn’t an income survey in that year (unless they are just wages).

I think it is also worthwhile noting that the statistical publication from the ABS gives more detail about what the spending patterns of low income households than any previous publication, as the government gave them money for a larger sample of low income households than ever before.

john walker
john walker
10 years ago

Unemployment is ‘unexpectedly’ up this morning, 12 thou full time jobs lost.