News & Politics

Math Is Hard: Bernie's Press Secretary Says 500 Million Americans Go Bankrupt Each Year

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and former Vice President Joe Biden, participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate at CNN Studios, Sunday, March 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Math is hard, guys. Remember when our betters in the press — namely MSNBC’s Brian Williams and The New York Times‘s Mara Gay — seemingly endorsed the ridiculous idea that Mike Bloomberg’s $500 million in campaign spending could give every American $1 million? Well, now it’s a Bernie Sanders staffer’s turn to make an embarrassing math mistake — also involving the number 500 million, for some reason…

“It’s great that everyone is coming together around this crisis. But people are in crisis everyday. 500 mil Americans go bankrupt from medical debt every year. 68 mil are un or underinsured. We’ve been in a state of emergency. We need a president who acts like it,” tweeted Briahna Joy Gray, press secretary for Bernie Sanders’ 2020 campaign.

Twitter screenshot.

Naturally, 500 million Americans cannot go bankrupt each year, due to the simple fact that there are not yet 500 million Americans. As of 2018, there are 327.2 million Americans. While that number is likely to increase in the 2020 census, it won’t come anywhere near 500 million. Even if it did, that wouldn’t make Gray’s claim any more reasonable.

Sanders has repeatedly declared that “500,000 Americans will go bankrupt this year from medical bills.” The Washington Post‘s fact-checker gave Sanders three Pinocchios for the claim. Bernie’s campaign explained he was citing a statistic from a public health journal, but the study he cited arguably “casts too wide a net because it counts anyone who mentioned medical bills or illness among their reasons for declaring bankruptcy, not just those who said it was the main reason or a big piece.”

As the Post explained, “Bankruptcies typically involve multiple causes, and in some cases, medical bills may be a small piece of the pie. Sanders glosses over those nuances, stating that health-care costs drove people to bankruptcy in all 500,000 cases. The study he’s citing doesn’t establish that.”

So Briahna Joy Gray exaggerated a claim from Bernie Sanders that Sanders himself had already overstated. Does that give her another Pinocchio?

Gray did not delete the tweet, but she added an asterisk, explaining that she meant to say “500k.” Even so, Americans on Twitter are mocking her relentlessly for the 500 million.

Andy Ngo pointed out that Gray is a former journalist — a contributing editor to Current Affairs and a senior politics editor for The Intercept, to be exact.

“I’m calling for a complete shutdown of math statistics involving the number 500 million until we figure out what the hell is going on,” The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh tweeted.

“Bernie Sanders Press Secretary claims 500 million Americans go bankrupt from medical debt every year (there are only ~340 million Americans). Now we can see why the Sanders campaign keeps insisting their math allows them to pay for trillions in plans by taxing the rich,” the popular conservative Twitter account AG Hamilton quipped.

Gray may have made an honest mistake with the 500 million, but that doesn’t mean Bernie’s 500,000 claim is any more accurate. These exaggerations do seem par for the course for a campaign promising “free” everything without a mechanism to pay for the massive government expansion “democratic” socialism entails.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.