Mike Huckabee says as governor of Arkansas he “raised average family income by 50 percent.” That’s an exaggeration.
The median household income in Arkansas rose 9.3 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars from 1995 to 2006, ranking the state 28th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia during that 11-year period, according to Census Bureau data. That’s giving Huckabee the benefit of household income growth in 1996, even though he became governor halfway through the year. Huckabee served from July 1996 to January 2007.
The only way to get close to the 50 percent increase Huckabee cites is to ignore the impact of inflation on buying power. Without adjusting for the rising cost of living, the median household income in Arkansas rose 44 percent from 1995 to 2006. But, as the Census Bureau points out, a cost-of-living adjustment should be made “in order to accurately compare income over time.”
Huckabee, who ran for president in 2008, made his boast about income gains in Arkansas in a YouTube video that is designed to re-introduce himself to Republican voters. The video, which is more than two minutes long, was posted May 1 — a few days before his May 5 announcement that he would run for president.
“As governor of Arkansas,” he says in the video, “I … raised average family income by 50 percent.” That message is reinforced on the screen with the text: “Raised Family Income 50%.”
His campaign did not respond to our request for data to support that claim. But one standard measure of household income comes from the Census Bureau, which estimates median household income each year based on the Annual Social and Economic Supplement.
The Census Bureau has data on its State Median Income page dating to 1984. (Median income is the halfway point, meaning half of families made less than the median, and half made more.)
Using the most recent Census data, we compared the change from 1995 to 2006. The Census Bureau provides the data in both “current dollars,” which is unadjusted for inflation, and “real dollars,” which in this case was inflation-adjusted in 2013 dollars.
From 1995 to 2006, Arkansas’s median household income went up 44 percent when not adjusted for inflation, from $25,814 to $37,057. But in inflation-adjusted dollars, the state’s median household income went up 9.3 percent, from $39,179 in 1995 to $42,814 in 2006. That was better than the national average, which was 7.7 percent, but as we mentioned earlier, the state ranked 28th in the nation.
Huckabee took office in mid-July of 1996 after then-Gov. Jim Tucker resigned. For that reason, we had to decide whether to use 1995 as the base year and give Huckabee credit for the entire increase in median household income for 1996, even though he did not take office until halfway through the year, or use 1996 as the base year and give him none of the credit for 1996. In the figures above, we give him credit for the income growth in all of 1996. That gets Huckabee closer to the 50 percent increase cited in his video.
By comparison, from 1996 to 2006, Arkansas’ median household income went up a more modest 36.6 percent when not adjusted for inflation (from $27,123 in 1996 to $37,057 in 2006) and 6.8 percent when adjusted for inflation in 2013 dollars (from $40,098 in 1996 to $42,814 in 2006).
In both scenarios, the state’s inflation-adjusted median household income grew by less than 10 percent – not anywhere close to 50 percent. And in both cases, the state was above the national average, but ranked 28th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia.
One last thing: In 1996, the year Huckabee took office, the state ranked 48th with an inflation-adjusted household median income of $40,098. When he left office, the state dropped one notch to 49th. Arkansas had an inflation-adjusted household median income of $42,814 in 2006.
— Eugene Kiely