Vice bets its readers won’t read the sources, claims they say the opposite in piece on rent

February 12, 2024

By Tim Worstall

Vice does one of those things journalism really shouldn’t do – writes about a report without considering what the report says.

The rent’s too darn high — but this isn’t quite correct:

Shelter costs were up 6.2 percent year over year in December, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and renters are more cost-burdened than they ever have been, according to a January report from Harvard’s Joint Center For Housing Studies.

But that Harvard report actually says:

Rental markets are rapidly cooling after a period of significant overheating. Rent growth has almost completely stopped, …(…)… This abrupt deceleration was geographically widespread, with rents even falling in some markets.

Yes, there is a difference between “shelter” costs (which include house prices and or mortgage interest rates) and rental prices. Which is exactly the thing that their choice of words there is gliding over. Which we think is misleading – for how many readers are going to be like us, aware of the details of these markets and therefore able to spot what is being done?

But our real complaint here is this:

But by far, the biggest dent in the everything-is-going-well narrative is how unaffordable housing is. Half of all renters in the United States are now cost-burdened, meaning they spend 30 percent or more of their income on housing, according to January reporting from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.

That is indeed what the report says. But we thought that was more than a little odd. So we did some journalism ourselves. We went and asked Harvard what measure of income they were using. It’s the one at page 88 here. The important part of which is this:

Receipts from the following sources are not included as income: capital gains, money received from the sale of property (unless the recipient was engaged in the business of selling such property); the value of income “in kind” from food stamps, public housing subsidies, medical care, employer contributions for individuals, etc.; withdrawal of bank deposits; money borrowed; tax refunds;

Tax refunds means the EITC is not included – the major way of boosting the wages of low paid workers. Medical care means Medicaid isn’t included. Food stamps aren’t included – the major way of boosting the incomes of the poor, whether working or not. But they’re not even including public housing subsidies. So, anyone getting a Section 8 voucher which pays all their rent – all of it, which does happen for some – is still being shown as cost-burdened even though they’re not, in fact, paying any of their rent at all.

When we add all of those together there’s around a trillion, yes a thousand billion, dollars a year going in subsidies to the poor. This isn’t to complain about that amount, not at all. It’s to complain about how this measure of rent and cost-burden entirely ignores, leaves out, misses, the effects of that trillion dollars.

Vice doesn’t check what they’re being told – and so leads us out here to being misinformed. We might even call it disinformation – people who are getting all of their rent paid through Section 8 are still being counted as cost-burdened by their rent? Ridiculous.

It took us five minutes – no, really – to get that information from Harvard. Because we actually understand the subject once we knew that definition of income being used then we knew what was happening. But here’s Vice telling us without spending the 5 minutes and without, probably, the ability to understand the answer even if they had. That’s not good journalism. And, as we say, given the misleading impression this gives, we’d count it as being misinformation. If they did this meaning to mislead us then that’s disinformation.

People who have their entire rent paid for them by us taxpayers are being described as cost-burdened by their rent bill. Abject nonsense.


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