Law school critic (once again) flunks basic arithmetic – UPDATED

When we last checked in at the pseudo-lefty website that for some reason allows the Federalist Society’s second favorite law professor to blog there, there was no sign that Professor Campos was willing to try his hand at long division again. But lo and behold today he waded back into the thicket.

This time, instead of trying to grapple with the complexities of net present value, he tried his hand at something I thought might be easier for him to handle: averages. Oh, well, no such luck.

[UPDATE: Professor Campos has now admitted his mistake as I explain here.]

In his quixotic obsession aimed at convincing recent BA graduates coming out of the University of Colorado that the last thing they should do in life is attend the University of Colorado law school, he writes the following about the earning power of lawyers:

“Let’s go to the numbers. Diamond cites Bureau of Labor Statistics occupational employment stats for his claim that incomes for lawyers “have increased steadily for at least two decades.” That’s a very misleading statement…adjusted for inflation, median salaries (a crucial term, as we’ll see shortly) for lawyers have been essentially flat since the mid-1990s, which is as far back as the BLS stats go: adjusted for inflation, the median salary for lawyers has increased by less than 5%, from $110,000 to $115,00. That’s approximately half the wage growth experienced by the average American worker over the past two decades — which, needless to say, have hardly compromised a banner era for American workers in general.”

Now here’s the problem.* While Campos starts with lawyer MEDIAN salaries he then compares those to MEAN “all worker” incomes. He then concludes lawyers have done worse than “all workers.”

As most fifth graders know, means and medians are not the same. And, perhaps worse, while Campos corrects the lawyer salaries for inflation he doesn’t do that for All Workers.

What happens if we compare apples to apples instead of apples to oranges as Campos did? Let’s break it down.

Lawyer Median Salary 1997/2014: $74568/$114970 (Delta: $40402 or a 54% increase)

Lawyer Mean Salary 1997/2014: $72840/$133470 (Delta: $60630 or an 83% increase)

Buying power** of Median (2014): $109987

Buying power** of 1997 Mean (2014 dollars): $107438

Difference*** at the median (Absolute/%): $4983/%4.33

Difference at the mean (Absolute/%): $26032/%19.5

In other words, at both the mean and the median lawyers have stayed ahead of inflation quite comfortably over the last two decades.

What happened to “All Workers”? Well, first, here is the MEAN data that Campos links to:

All Worker Mean Salary 1997: $26309

All Worker Mean Salary 2014: $44569

Delta: $18260 or 69%

Buying power of 1997 Mean (2104): $38805

Difference at the mean (Absolute/%): $5764/%13.0

In other words, at the mean, lawyers have kept ahead of inflation well ahead of the rate of “all workers”. And at the mean their wages have increased ahead of All Workers (83% v. 69%).

But let’s do Campos the favor of not making the mistake he made and compare medians to medians. Fortunately the SSC also provides median salaries, ignored by Campos, here.

All Worker Median Salary 1997: $18277

All Worker Median Salary 2014: $28851

Delta: $10574 or 58%

Buying Power of 1997 Median (2014 dollars): $26958

Difference at the median (Absolute/%): $1893.00/6.5%

At the median, both lawyers and All Workers kept ahead of inflation with All Workers doing just slightly better.

Campos’ claim that I was “misleading” when I said that lawyers are better off than they were 20 years ago and that they have rebounded from the downturn is hardly justified.

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*There are other problems, too, because he picks the all worker data from a different data base (Social Security) than he chooses for lawyers (BLS). The All Worker data base includes income sources that are not included in the lawyer database. And of course the All Worker data includes lawyers so the data is skewed (upwards) by that contribution. And, finally, even if his numbers were accurate, why does he think it is not a good thing that lawyers have maintained salaries that outpace inflation? Let’s ignore those problems for now as they likely are not dramatically significant.

**Using BLS CPI Inflation Calculator. I use 2014 as the stopping point even though 2015 data are available because the All Worker data used by Campos stops at 2014. Keep in mind that 2015 showed a nice increase for lawyers salaries.

***Difference between actual 2014 salary and buying power of 1997 salary in 2014 dollars.