Skip to content Skip to footer

How To Invent A Misleading Statistic

A misleading statistic not only misinforms, it has the ability to distract the public from the dangerous reality of our government’s failures.

The Washington Post’s David A. Fahrenthold hyped the size of the federal government out of context, presenting an excellent example of how to construct a misleading statistic.

Writing on the size of the federal workforce, Fahrenhold claims:

Measured another way — not in dollars, but in people — the government has about 4.1 million employees today, military and civilian. That’s more than the populations of 24 states.

Wow, 24 states. That’s almost half the country. Clearly the federal behemoth has grown too big.

Other ways he could have phrased this statement include:

That’s less than the population of the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area.


That’s less than half the audience that viewed America’s Got Talent last week.

Or more accurately:

That’s approximately 1.3 percent of the total U.S. population, handling all government business, including delivering our mail, serving in the military, inspecting our food, fighting terrorism, etc.

Farhenthold’s statistic was clearly designed to imply to readers that the federal workforce had grown too large and therefore more spending cuts were necessary. Even more misleading than his statistic was his failure to mention that further cuts could actually harm the economy. According to the International Monetary Fund, “the United States had proved too aggressive in carrying out budget cuts, given its still-sluggish rates of growth and high unemployment levels.”

Join us in defending the truth before it’s too late

The future of independent journalism is uncertain, and the consequences of losing it are too grave to ignore. To ensure Truthout remains safe, strong, and free, we need to raise $46,000 in the next 7 days. Every dollar raised goes directly toward the costs of producing news you can trust.

Please give what you can — because by supporting us with a tax-deductible donation, you’re not just preserving a source of news, you’re helping to safeguard what’s left of our democracy.