A Wall Street Journal article debunked the myth that federal disability benefits are to blame for the shrinking labor force, "exaggerated" claims that have previously been pushed by the paper itself.
An April 29 Journal article headlined "Real Culprit Behind Smaller Workforce: Age" explained that the recent decrease in the labor force -- the number of employed and unemployed Americans who are currently seeking work -- "has more to do with retiring baby boomers than frustrated job seekers abandoning their searches." The article noted that claims that Americans are voluntarily leaving the workforce to receive Disability Insurance instead of working, for example, "may be exaggerated," and explained that retirees and students made up a far more significant portion of those leaving the labor force. The article included the following graph, showing disability was the least common reason for individuals leaving the workforce in March 2013:
However, the Journal has previously pushed the myth that Disability Insurance accounted for much of the dropping labor force participation rate. An April 10 article headlined "Workers Stuck in Disability Stunt Economic Recovery" claimed that workers receiving disability benefits were costing the economy billions by not instead participating in the labor force, and quoted economist Michael Feroli's claim that "worker flight to the Social Security Disability Insurance program accounts for as much as a quarter of the puzzling drop in participation rates, a labor exodus with far-reaching economic consequences." These claims are in direct contradiction to the Journal's most recent reporting.
According to Center for Economic and Policy Research co-director Dean Baker, research shows if more individuals who receive disability benefits worked, it would have a relatively minor effect on employment figures. Harold Pollack, an expert on disability policy at the University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration, dismissed the idea that disability benefits might be "luring away people who could work." Despite these facts, media continue to attack federal disability benefits by pushing the false claim that disability programs harm the economy.
Fox News forwarded the notion that it might be appropriate for school children to be forced to work in exchange for free school meals, after a Republican lawmaker in West Virginia proposed such a requirement for a new law curbing child hunger.
On Fox & Friends First, on-screen text asked viewers whether students should have to "work for their school meals":
As The Washington Post blog "She The People" explained, the idea that students could be forced into labor in exchange for food comes from a Republican member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, who suggested the requirement be added to a bill intended to ensure no child goes hungry:
"I think it would be a good idea if perhaps we had the kids work for their lunches: trash to be taken out, hallways to be swept, lawns to be mowed, make them earn it," said Ray Canterbury, a Republican from Greenbrier and a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, during debate over Senate Bill 663, also known as the Feed to Achieve Act.
The bill -- the first of its kind in the nation -- would create a partnership between private donations and public funds to make breakfast and lunch available for free to every student, kindergarten through high school senior, in West Virginia. It's based on a model program in Mason County that's improved attendance and decreased discipline problems, according to the school district's food service director.
Free meals are provided through the National School Lunch Program to students whose family's income is 130 percent or less of the federal poverty guidelines. For this past school year, that means a family of four with an annual income of $29,965 qualifies. Children with household incomes of 185 percent or less of the poverty guidelines can get reduced-price meals under the program, which -- I was surprised to learn -- was established in 1946 by the National School Lunch Act.
West Virginia's Feed to Achieve Act wants to go beyond that by making sure no child goes hungry at school, but Canterbury repeated the theme of "there is no such thing as a free lunch" during the delegates' discussion of the bill, which had passed the state Senate unanimously.
Media outlets including NPR and Fox News are targeting federal disability benefits programs through a campaign deceptively portraying these programs as wasteful and unsustainable. In reality, these programs have low fraud rates and help the rising number of Americans with severe disabilities survive when they are unable to work.
Washington Examiner senior political columnist Tim Carney is using the murder trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell to demonize an exceptionally rare type of legal abortion that is used to save the life of a mother.
Gosnell has been charged with eight counts of murder, horrific acts committed under the guise of women's health services that are detailed by a grand jury report and which an expert on reproductive health explained are not in line with legal abortion procedures.
In an April 16 Examiner column, Carney fixated on remarks made by Dr. Tracy Weitz, a reproductive health professor at the University of California, during a conference call with pro-choice group RH Reality Check. Carney highlighted her descriptions of a particular abortion procedure to imply that the only difference between Gosnell's methods and legal abortions was whether or not the procedure was performed "when the fetus is still in the uterus, not when the fetus has been delivered."
But as Dr. Weitz explained in her response to Carney, the procedures Gosnell is alleged to have done have "nothing to do with the way in which the standard of care and later abortion procedures are performed in the United States" and his actions are "nowhere in the medical literature." Similarly, Salon's Irin Carmon explained that "[n]o one who supports the provision of safe abortion care to women excuses any of what Gosnell is accused of, from willfully gruesome conditions to sadistic treatment to infanticide."
Carney's bogus analogy of legal abortion procedures to the Gosnell case further ignores the fact that legal "late-term" abortions -- which is not a medical term -- are extremely rare, making up only about 1 percent of all abortions in the United States, and are significantly restricted by law. According to research by the Guttmacher Institute, the vast majority of states prohibit abortions after fetus "viability," which occurs at approximately 20 to 24 weeks, prior to the third trimester. Some states provide an exception, allowing a medical professional to perform a late-term abortion when the life of the mother is threatened, and in even fewer states, cases of "fetal abnormality."
Furthermore, contrary to Gosnell's alleged actions, legal abortion is very safe. As Carmon reported, a medical study published in 2012 concluded that "[l]egal induced abortion is markedly safer than childbirth. The risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion."
But these life-saving procedures are under threat as right-wing media figures such as Carney continue to demonize legal, affordable, safe, and rare abortions by implying that they are similar to Gosnell's horrors. As Salon's Carmon further noted, many women went to Gosnell "because they felt they had no alternative." The case is an indictment of the anti-choice movement, revealing the need for safe, affordable, and legal abortion services that protect the health of women.
Right-wing media are encouraging Republican senators to filibuster gun violence prevention legislation, continuing a long history of trying to influence GOP politics through recommended obstructionism.
Fox News figures claimed the U.S. should emulate the United Kingdom by slashing funding to federal disability programs and changing eligibility requirements, despite the fact that U.S. eligibility requirements are already stringent, that the new U.K. benefits tests were largely overturned on appeal, and that research shows changes to disability programs in the U.K. will force thousands of individuals with disabilities into poverty.
Under fire for a sloppy report that leaned on anecdotal evidence to make sweeping generalizations about federal disability benefits, NPR has edited portions of that report even as Ira Glass publicly defends the initial reporting.
On March 22, Media Matters highlighted several myths and errors in a report from NPR's Planet Money about Supplemental Security Insurance, a federal disability program for children. The report drew further criticism, and more than 100 organizations that advocate for and support people with disabilities have signed a letter criticizing the piece, saying it "paints a misleading and inaccurate picture of the Social Security programs that serve as a vital lifeline for millions of Americans with severe disabilities."
On March 26, This American Life host Ira Glass responded to Media Matters' criticism by claiming he stood by his program's work, saying "our report on disability programs was fact checked line by line by an outside fact checker, in addition to fact checking by the reporter and her editors" and that "We know of no factual errors. We stand by the story."
But while Glass publicly claimed to stand behind the story, Wired Business senior writer Ryan Tate has noted that the online text version of the radio program has been altered since its original posting.
NPR has since said that the changes were made "for clarity after publication."
Right-wing media are claiming that the federal government spent money on research grants and other expenses for puppets during the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, despite the fact that the grants were all paid prior to the budget cuts.
On Wednesday, Breitbart.com attacked the administration for stopping tours of the White House as a result of budget cuts in a post titled "U.S. Spends $1.18 Million On Puppets Amid Sequester," and claimed the government could "cut federal 'puppet expenditures' to keep the people's house open." The website listed spending from the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, among other sources, as federal spending on "puppets and puppetry-related expenses."
Fox Nation hyped the Breitbart.com post, labeling it a "report":
Fox & Friends joined in on Thursday when co-host Steve Doocy said: "1.18 million, that's how much the government has spent on puppets since 2009. That's enough to pay for more than a year's worth of White House tours."
However, the grants and contracts that Breitbart.com cited were all paid prior to 2013. A screenshot of the search terms used by Breitbart.com reveals the most recent grants were paid in fiscal year 2012, which ended on September 30, 2012. Sequestration took place on March 1, 2013, almost six months later.
Despite the claims of Fox News and Breitbart.com, these expenditures have nothing to do with the cancelation of White House tours. The spending cited by Breitbart.com did not come out of the budget of the Secret Service, which made the decision to stop providing security for the tours due to its own budget cuts under the sequester.
A misleading NPR report has become fodder for a right-wing media campaign to scapegoat federal disability benefits, despite the fact that the rise in disability claims can be attributed to the economic recession and demographic shifts, and that instances of fraud are minimal.
NPR reported that the rise in the number of federal disability beneficiaries was "startling" and claimed it was explained by unemployed workers with "squishy" claims of disability choosing to receive federal benefits rather than work. Right-wing media called the report "brilliant," and used it to further the myth that the increase in the number of individuals receiving disability benefits reveals fraud in the system.
Breitbart.com's Wynton Hall wrote that NPR's "eye-opening" piece uncovered a disability program "fraught with fraud." Fox Nation promoted the piece with the headline, "Every Month, 14 Million People Get a Disability Check from the Government..." The National Review Online's blog called the piece "brilliant," while the Washington Examiner's editorial offered it as evidence that disability benefits provide "a voluntary life sentence to idle poverty." The Drudge Report linked to the NPR story and to the Breitbart.com article:
But as Media Matters previously noted, these reports failed to include crucial facts that explain the rise in disability benefits. The recent financial crisis and the rising rate of child poverty have made more children eligible to receive benefits through the Supplemental Security program, while the growth in the number of adults receiving benefits through Social Security Disability Insurance since the 1970s is largely explained by increases in the number of women qualifying for benefits. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained, as women have joined the workforce in greater numbers over the past few decades, more women are eligible for disability benefits, resulting in higher numbers of beneficiaries.
Furthermore, in a report published in March 2012, the Government Accountability Office found that improper payments of disability benefits are not a widespread problem, and accounted for less than four percent of total improper payments made by federal agencies in fiscal year 2011.
Public radio program This American Life pushed a series of myths about Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI), a Social Security program that supports families that include children with disabilities. The piece ignored that the recent rise in disability benefits is tied to the recession and higher rates of poverty, that qualifying for benefits is difficult, that SSI encourages employment, and that the current program has significantly reduced poverty among children with disabilities.