In 2013, broadcast evening news programs have largely ignored the need for the economy to return to full employment, instead placing overwhelming focus on debt and deficit reduction.
After weeks of highlighting negative aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), media outlets have largely underreported the law's success in helping slow the growth of health care costs.
Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer attacked attempts to reduce income equality as only exacerbating economic growth and unemployment. But leading economists have supported government efforts to address inequality, calling it a paramount issue facing the country.
On the November 18 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly and Krauthammer met ostensibly to discuss rising economic inequality in the United States. Their conversation, however, quickly devolved into standard attacks against the efficacy of policies aimed at reducing inequality and building economic security. Citing a report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), O'Reilly highlighted the "astounding" income gains of the top 1 percent of earners from 1979 to 2007 before turning to blame President Obama for failing to address growing inequality during his administration. Krauthammer joined the chorus, blaming President Obama's expressed concern with reducing economic inequality for actually driving unequal economic growth during his time in office [emphasis added]:
O'REILLY: President Obama promotes income equality, but during his time in office the rich are getting richer and the median income for working Americans has actually gone down. Joining us now from Washington, Charles Krauthammer. So why is this happening?
KRAUTHAMMER: It's happening because there is low economic growth. It's what Kennedy said; a rising economic tide lifts all boats. If you're obsessed with equality, as they are in Europe, what you end up with is chronic unemployment.
Krauthammer's claim that efforts to reduce economic inequality have an adverse effect on the economy is patently false. Economist Robert Reich has argued for decades that economic inequality "is bad for everyone," including the very wealthy, because it reduces economic growth potential.
Reich is not alone among noted economists championing policies that reduce inequality as a means to spur economic growth.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller recently told the Associated Press that "rising inequality in the United States and elsewhere in the world" is "[t]he most important problem that we are facing today." Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman agrees; reducing economic inequality should be a primary policy goal in the United States. In a column titled "Rich Man's Recovery", Krugman argued that the continued concentration of wealth among the very wealthy "undermine[s] all the values that define America." Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz encouraged politicians to address economic inequality in 2013 as a means of unleashing a robust and sustainable economic recovery. Recently, Stiglitz has stated that "inequality is a choice."
Fox News pushed a number of discredited myths to attack renewed calls for raising the minimum wage, ignoring research and prevailing opinions' of economists.
On November 7, President Obama expressed support for the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which seeks to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
Reacting to the renewed call to raise the minimum wage on the November 8 edition of Fox News' Happening Now, reporter Doug McKelway dedicated a segment to discussing its potential economic effects. McKelway expressed doubt over the economic merits of raising the minimum wage and claimed that it would force companies to "cut back by getting rid of workers or increasing the price of goods they make or sell."
Instead of informing viewers with research about the effects of raising the minimum wage, McKelway's report largely hinged upon an interview with construction contractor and conservative activist Brett MacMahon and anecdotal evidence. Had McKelway attempted to give a fact-based report on the minimum wage, viewers would know that increasing it has been found to have a positive impact on job creation and economic growth.
According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), which recently examined research on the minimum wage since 2000, "[t]he weight of that evidence points to little or no employment response to modest increases in the minimum wage." Indeed, CEPR's findings back up previous studies, one of which found that hiring responses to minimum wage hikes are more likely to be positive than negative.
A minimum wage analysis published by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) revealed the broader impact of gradually raising the federal minimum wage above $10 per hour by July 1, 2015. According to EPI, increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would result in over $51 billion in additional wages paid to roughly 30 million American workers. The wage increase would stimulate nearly $33 billion of increased GDP growth while creating as many as 140,000 new jobs.
According to EPI tabulations, increasing the minimum wage would have its largest impact on workers at the lower end of the income bracket, but the positive side effects would still be felt by hundreds of thousands of households with income in excess of $150,000 annually.
McKelway continued pushing his inaccurate minimum wage reporting later on Fox News' America's News HQ. The segment focused heavily on the alleged negative impact an increased minimum wage would have on young and teen workers. However, according to the aforementioned EPI study, a gradual wage increase similar to that supported by President Obama would largely affect workers aged 20 years or older, with teenage workers only representing a little more than 11 percent of those receiving increased wages.
Increasing the federal minimum wage to $10 per hour is supported by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), which claims such a wage increase would positively impact "nearly one in every five workers in the country." Furthermore, a February 2013 survey of economists conducted by the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business found wide support for President Obama's previous call for raising the minimum wage to $9.00.
Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham tried to downplay the effects of the recent government shutdown by citing data from before the shutdown even began.
On November 7, the Commerce Department released its latest economic growth estimate for the third quarter of 2013. These data, which track the growth of gross domestic product (GDP) from July through September 2013, revealed a 2.8 percent growth rate over that three-month period.
On Twitter, Ingraham interpreted the reported 2.8 percent GDP growth rate as evidence that the 16-day government shutdown -- orchestrated by the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives and emboldened by favorable right-wing media coverage -- actually had little effect on the economy.
If Ingraham had taken time to read actual reporting on the subject, she would have seen that the third-quarter report (July-September) does not include any negative effects of the government shutdown, which started on October 1. From the LA Times:
The third-quarter outcome was nearly a full percentage point stronger than most economists had predicted. Analysts expect the shutdown will slow growth in the October-December quarter.
A widely-reported impact estimate from financial ratings agency Standard & Poor's put the cost of the government shutdown at roughly $24 billion. The agency also lowered its growth forecast for the last quarter of the year (October through December). Economists argue that the shutdown will have lingering effects on the labor market and overall economy for the foreseeable future. The shutdown also eroded consumer confidence and may have derailed our gradual economic recovery.
Ingraham's faulty attempt to downplay the negative economic consequences of the government shutdown reveals a clear misunderstanding of the facts and of calendars.
UPDATE (11/7): Ingraham has since deleted her tweet and has issued no correction to her Twitter account at time of posting.
In the first month following the opening of healthcare exchanges -- a key component of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- broadcast news programs have largely ignored the role of expanded health care in reducing economic insecurity, instead placing overwhelming focus on glitches in the Healthcare.gov website.
Fox Business' Charles Payne questioned the need for fast food workers to rely on federal assistance, absurdly citing aggregate earnings of workers and ignoring the fact that many in the industry earn below subsistent wages.
On the October 25 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., guest host Charles Payne and Fox contributor Elizabeth MacDonald discussed a recently released audio recording from the advocacy group LowPayIsNotOK.org. In the recording, a long-time McDonald's employee is directed by a "McResources" representative to seek out federal benefit programs to augment her inadequate take-home income. MacDonald cited a statement from McDonald's disavowing the call before Payne launched into a slander-filled tirade against a stereotyped generalization of low-wage, fast food employees:
PAYNE: There is a lot of unfortunate parts of the story. If you want to create a society where these jobs -- $8 jobs go for $15. Then what you're saying to people is like, okay, "don't improve your life. Don't finish high school. Don't go to college. Don't, you know what, have three or four kids out of wedlock. Don't put yourself in a predicament where this is your only option. In fact, keep doing what you're doing, smoke weed all day if you want. Doesn't matter. You'll get rewarded because in this society Mickey D's has got the money. They owe it to you." And I think that's a work mentality.
Payne concluded his screed by referencing the aggregate wages of fast food employees nationwide to support his claim that they don't actually need taxpayer-subsidized assistance programs:
PAYNE: By the way, people should know. They say it's between $3 to $7 billion that fast food workers get in care from the government. In the same time though, these fast food workers make between $41 and $46 billion. So who is subsidizing who?
While Payne is quick to dismiss that workers need these programs, absurdly citing aggregate earnings of fast food workers, facts show that they are indeed essential.
According to a recently released study by economists at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign titled "Fast Food, Poverty Wages: The Public Cost of Low-Wage Jobs in the Fast Food Industry," "annual earnings in the fast food industry are well below the income need for self-sufficiency," and after accounting for limited work hours, the median annual earnings of a fast food worker stands at just $11,056 -- below the federal poverty threshold for an individual. Couple those low earnings with the fact that workers in the industry are twice as likely to be in households with total income below the poverty line, and it becomes clear that reliance on federal programs is necessary.
Indeed, fast food workers are overwhelmingly more reliant on public assistance programs than other segments of the workforce.
In the week following the end of the 16-day government shutdown, major print media outlets shifted their attention to upcoming bipartisan budget negotiations. This coverage of budget priorities was far more likely to mention the need for deficit and debt reduction than economic growth and job creation, despite economists warning that growth is the more pressing concern.
Fox News has downright ignored the billions lost in productivity as a result of the government shutdown, which stands in stark contrast to the network's years-long attack on minimal waste and abuse in food assistance programs.
On October 16, the financial ratings agency Standard & Poor's released its estimate of the economic cost of the 16-day long shutdown of the federal government, concluding that it cost the American economy $24 billion in lost productivity. The agency also cut its forecast for economic growth in the upcoming fiscal quarter by at least 0.6 percentage points.
Since the shutdown was lifted on October 16, Fox News personalities have expended considerable effort downplaying the effect the shutdown had on the economy.
On October 16, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs cited a slight uptick on the Dow Jones industrial average throughout the shutdown as evidence that the nationwide closure of federal lands and agencies had a negligible economic effect. Fox Business' Melissa Francis made a similar argument, claiming that the shutdown had shown Americans they could live with "a lot smaller government." On the October 17 edition of The Five, Fox News host Eric Bolling questioned the validity of S&P, and other agencies, that report economic losses from the shutdown, baselessly suggesting that their reports are influenced by political factors.
Fox's continued denial of the ruinous economic effect of the government shutdown reveals the network's hypocritical and overzealous reporting on waste and abuse in federal anti-poverty programs.
In August, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), updated its figures for "trafficking," or when SNAP recipients sell their benefits for cash, in the program. Its data reveal a slight increase in trafficking rates from 1.0 percent in 2006-2008 to 1.3 percent in 2009-2011. The total value of trafficked benefits during the last three year period is estimated to be $858 million annually.
Rather than acknowledging that SNAP trafficking rates were still near historic lows, Fox misleadingly highlighted what it called a "30 percent" increase in abuse. Days previously, Fox dedicated another segment to attacking food assistance that included host Eric Bolling overestimating SNAP fraud and abuse rates by 5,000 percent.
The amount of yearly trafficking abuse in SNAP amounts to less than four percent of the wasted economic output caused by the government shutdown. In other words, the cost of the 16-day shutdown is nearly 28 times larger than a full year of food assistance abuse. While Fox has repeatedly claimed that waste in SNAP cannot be tolerated, the network has yet to acknowledge that waste from the shutdown even exists.
Of course, this should come as no surprise given the network's efforts to encourage the shutdown and resulting economic fallout. Fox News played a prominent role in encouraging and facilitating a partial government shutdown that cost the economy billions of dollars in lost productivity while producing zero policy gains for the Republican Party or its right-wing media champions. Fox has tried repeatedly to find scapegoats in the administration to shift blame away from allies in the House GOP caucus.
According to the USDA, "fluctuations in the number of SNAP participants in the last 16 years have broadly tracked major economic indicators." With the Republican-led shutdown effectively draining tens of billions of dollars out of the economy, SNAP registries are likely to increase in the near-term as the shutdown and lingering fiscal austerity drag down recovery.
If that happens, recipients of federal anti-poverty assistance can expect a resurgence of Fox attacks.
Wall Street Journal editorial board member Mary Kissel falsely claimed that no American homeowners have been wrongfully foreclosed on since the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009. In fact, federal investigations found more than a million homeowners have faced potentially wrongful foreclosures.
On the October 11 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., guest host Charles Payne was joined by Fox contributor Monica Crowley and Kissel to discuss the latest quarterly earnings report from JPMorgan Chase. The firm, which has been beset by legal battles, reported robust profits despite extensive legal expenses in the last fiscal quarter.
The discussion turned to an alleged government "shake down" of the bank and demonization of Wall Street when Kissel interjected that, in fact, the financial industry had done nothing whatsoever to deserve extra scrutiny:
KISSEL: There hasn't been a single homeowner who has been identified who was foreclosed on that shouldn't have been foreclosed on. Somebody who was paying his bills.
In fact, more than a million American homeowners were potentially wrongfully foreclosed on during the housing crisis.
An independent review of foreclosures, conducted by the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), found that up to 30 percent of the 3.9 million households foreclosed on by 11 leading financial institutions faced wrongful challenges or should have been subject to certain legal protections. From the Huffington Post:
Close to 1.2 million borrowers, or about 30 percent of the more than 3.9 million households whose properties were foreclosed on by 11 leading financial institutions in 2009 and 2010, had to battle potentially wrongful efforts to seize their homes despite not having defaulted on their loans, being protected under a host of federal laws, or having been in good standing under bank-approved plans to either restructure their mortgages or temporarily delay required payments.
They reveal that nearly 700 borrowers who faced foreclosure proceedings had actually never defaulted on their loans.
The Huffington Post further reported, according to OCC data, that nearly a quarter-million borrowers eventually lost their homes. JPMorgan Chase, the bank being discussed on Varney & Co., has paid out millions of dollars in settlements over wrongful foreclosures, "leading Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan's chief executive, to personally apologize for his bank's errors."
Kissel's argument that banks like JPMorgan Chase did nothing do deserve current legal investigation - and instead praising Dimon for not "blow[ing] up the bank" - denies the reality faced by millions of Americans over the past five years.