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The Trump administration's war on statistics isn't slowing down

Catherine Rampell on

Don't like the numbers? Invent new numbers instead.

Or make it harder to collect trustworthy numbers next time.

Or just put the squeeze on the number crunchers themselves.

Slowly but surely, the Trump administration has been chipping away at the independence and integrity of our federal statistical agencies, whose data is critical to keeping our democracy functioning and our economy healthy. So far as we know, the administration still hasn't managed to pierce the citadel of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (the independent agency that releases jobs and inflation numbers) or Bureau of Economic Analysis (the independent agency that tabulates gross domestic product). But around the edges, it's trying to compromise lots of other official government data.

This week, The New York Times reported that the Environmental Protection Agency plans to massage the model it uses to determine how many people die of pollution. The goal is to make the rollback of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan look significantly less deadly than the current models suggest. This is also part of a broader administrative effort to downgrade official estimates of environmental harm resulting from the administration's deregulatory agenda.

It's reminiscent of another proposal the administration made this month, relating to how we measure poverty. That's also a technical, boring-sounding, deep-in-the-weeds change that most of the public won't notice.

 

At least, not at first.

But over time, the change would reduce the number of Americans officially counted as poor -- not because they've started earning more money but because this technical, boring-sounding change would redraw the line for who is in or out of poverty.

If you're a right-wing politician, this change would be a double win. It allows you to claim your policies have lifted families out of poverty, even if they're still struggling. It's also a backdoor way to slash spending on the safety net.

That's because the poverty threshold is used to determine eligibility for lots of safety-net services, meaning those newly defined as not-poor would also become newly defined as not-eligible for food stamps, Medicare's Part D Low-Income Subsidy program and other benefits. After 10 years, for instance, more than 300,000 children would lose comprehensive coverage through Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), according to an estimate from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

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