February 22, 2021

Before Congress settled on a COVID-19 relief bill that gave many Americans a $600 stimulus check, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders criticized then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for not supporting an increased $2,000 stimulus check. In a speech, Sanders said McConnell’s home state of Kentucky would benefit from an increased stimulus package, since “10 of the poorest 25 counties in the United States of America are located in Kentucky.”

These types of attention-grabbing stats are made for social media, and the C-SPAN clip of Sanders was quickly shared across platforms, including YouTube. We fact-checked it using these three questions developed by the Stanford History Education Group. Here’s how.

1. Who is behind the information?

The video we fact-checked was a brief clip from C-SPAN, which was shared by a YouTube channel called The Progressive Voice. The Progressive Voice is dedicated to political commentary, and they list themselves as “Progressive Liberal” in their description. When it comes to fact-checking — or just reading news in general — you always want to be aware of any potential bias.

2. What is the evidence?

During his speech, Sanders never actually cites a source for his information. The YouTube description doesn’t include any helpful links, either. With no evidence, it’s possible that the stat has been misinterpreted, taken out of context or possibly be outdated.

3. What are other sources saying?

Now it is time to do a little digging of our own. A quick keyword search brought up this article from The Courier-Journal, a Kentucky newspaper. They looked into this same claim, and according to the article, Sanders actually “misused the statistic.”

According to the article, 24/7 Wall Street, a financial news and opinion company, compiled a list of the “worst counties to live in” based on three factors: poverty, the percentage of adults who have at least a bachelor’s degree and average life expectancy at birth.

And while 10 Kentucky counties did make the “worst” list, that does not automatically mean those counties are the poorest (despite poverty being a factor).

USA Today also reported on the list from 24/7 Wall Street. According to the article, data on life expectancy is from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, and the rest of the data was collected from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey and are five-year estimates. USA Today also wrote that “many” — not all — of these counties also rank among the poorest.

However, we also have to consider that Sanders wasn’t even referencing this list of the worst counties. So let’s pull the data for ourselves to see where the 25 poorest counties are located and see how many are in Kentucky. For any statistical claim, primary sources are the way to go. Heading to the U.S. Census Bureau, we downloaded the most recent poverty and income data that was available at the time Sanders made this statement. According to the data, Kentucky holds five — not 10— of the 25 poorest counties in the United States.

Our rating

Needs Context. When it comes to claims like this one, keep in mind that it is easy to misinterpret data. While it’s true that 10 Kentucky counties made a list of the 25 “worst” counties to live in, that does not automatically mean that those counties are also the poorest — since poverty was not the only factor considered. In reality, five of the 25 poorest counties in the U.S. are in Kentucky.

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