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On June 25, 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) into law and established the first nationwide minimum hourly wage. The relative value of the minimum wage has fluctuated considerably over time, but it has steadily eroded since reaching an inflation-adjusted peak in 1968 -- the $1.60 per hour wage that year would be worth roughly $11.05 today. For several years, in the face of a growing movement to lift local, state, and federal minimum wages to a livable standard, right-wing media opponents have frequently promoted a number of misleading and discredited myths about the minimum wage’s economic effects.
Right-wing media are reacting to the U.K. referendum to leave the European Union -- commonly referred to as Brexit -- by labeling the result a “very, very ominous sign for Democrats in the United States,” saying Donald Trump “looked like a genius” for saying the U.K. should leave the European Union, and claiming that “Hillary [Clinton] lost and Trump won.” Meanwhile, mainstream media warn of economic ramifications from the vote.
Since 2009, self-described “guerilla journalist” James O’Keefe has repeatedly embarrassed himself while attempting to launch undercover stings targeting government agencies, media outlets, and liberal organizations and institutions.
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Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) new series of proposals -- released June 7 in a report commissioned by House Republicans titled “A Better Way to Fight Poverty” -- aims to restructure federal anti-poverty programs, but they heavily rely on myths commonly promoted by right-wing media outlets that mislead about poverty and shame the poor. On June 6, the Center for American Progress (CAP) released its own plan to reform and restructure anti-poverty programs in the United States, offering an example of what serious proposals look like when informed by serious economic research, rather than by right-wing media myths.
In the week since Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) and the Republican-led Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility released their so-called anti-poverty agenda, titled “A Better Way to Fight Poverty,” journalists and experts heavily criticized the plan for rehashing “the same, stale, far-right ideas” pushed by Republicans in the past, and for ignoring basic facts about the inefficacy of these reforms.
Fox & Friends co-hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade cherry-picked new economic data to attack President Obama over the difference in median household income between now and the year 2000, but they failed to mention that median household income is still going up since it crashed after the Great Recession.
Doocy and Kilmeade blasted Obama on the economy over new median household income data on the June 10 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, but they failed to mention that recent incomes have risen year to year. Seizing on pre-recession data, Kilmeade noted that median household income is down from 2000, when the annual household median income was $57,342 in 2016 dollars. Although Fox & Friends pointed out that this is $79 more than 2016’s median household income of $57,263, the co-hosts did not note that the 2016 figure is still an increase of $2,409 from last year, continuing the post-recession upward trajectory.
Doocy also criticized the president for not getting gross domestic product growth up to 3 percent during his tenure, falsely claiming, “President Obama has been historic … because no U.S. president has ever not had 3 percent growth in a single year.” Doocy’s bizarre claim is wrong: Republican President Herbert Hoover not only never hit 3 percent growth, but he failed to hit zero percent growth, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).
The bureau has consistent annual data from 1930 to the present. Because of the Great Depression, the economy contracted at a rate of 8.5 percent in 1930, 6.4 percent in 1931, a staggering 12.9 percent in 1932, and 1.3 percent in 1933. The contraction in 1933 may have been even greater, had Franklin Delano Roosevelt not replaced Hoover in the White House in March of that year, and chosen to initiate the substantial government stimulus projects known as the New Deal. Hoover is also not the only example that disproves Doocy’s claim -- reliable GDP estimates prior to 1930 are difficult to find, but available data show four consecutive presidents overseeing economic growth of less than 2 percent from 1871 to 1885.
Fox & Friends has pushed conservative misinformation on the economy before, sticking to a right-wing script reported on in an April 28 blog post by Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman. Waldman explained how Republicans mislead the American public about the health of the economy by ignoring positive economic trends. The focus of Waldman’s comparison was the “objective reality” of progress and areas for improvement specified by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the “laughable fantasy” of “an absolute [economic] nightmare” outlined by Republican front-runner Donald Trump, but it could have just as easily been any of the personalities at Fox News. The June 10 Fox & Friends segment that misled on median household income is just another example of right-wing media sticking to the script.
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WSJ Highlights Poll Showing Few Know Puerto Ricans Are U.S. Citizens Weeks After Slurring Them As "Refugees"
The disparity between The Wall Street Journal's objective news reporters and its right-wing editorial slant was on full display in a reporter’s blog post highlighting how few poll respondents can correctly identify Puerto Ricans as American citizens. The public's lack of awareness is no doubt fed by outlets like the Journal, which slurred Puerto Ricans as "refugees" in an editorial just five weeks ago.
A June 9 blog post in The Wall Street Journal from economics correspondent Nick Timiraos surmised that one of the challenges members of Congress face as they debate bipartisan legislation to help Puerto Rico stabilize and restructure billions of dollars of government debt is that so few of their constituents realize that Puerto Ricans are natural-born American citizens:
Pop quiz: What’s the national citizenship of people born in Puerto Rico to parents who were also born in Puerto Rico?
If you don’t know the answer to that question, you’re not alone. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, but only 43% of Americans answered correctly in a recent Economist/YouGov poll. Some 41% said they were citizens of Puerto Rico, while another 15% weren’t sure.
The statistic underscores one challenge Congress has faced as it considers legislation to address the island’s debt crisis: The issue hasn’t been a high priority for lawmakers partly because their constituents aren’t aware that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.
There are many explanations for why 41 percent of respondents to an Economist/YouGov poll conducted in early May might have incorrectly thought Puerto Ricans are not American citizens. Perhaps the respondents had been reading The Wall Street Journal’s editorials, which on May 2 warned that the island’s debt crisis could create an “exodus” of “Puerto Rican refugees” to the United States mainland. The paper expressed outrage that these so-called “refugees” might “qualify for Medicaid, food stamps and public housing” and worst of all “be able to vote.”
Because Puerto Rico is not a state, its millions of residents do not have any representation in the Congress that will decide their fate -- the same is true for hundreds of thousands of Americans living in other U.S. territories, including Washington, D.C. The editors of the Journal were stoking anxiety that foreign immigrants might move to the United States to steal jobs and skew elections, but the fact is American citizens have the right to live and work wherever they choose in their own country.
Puerto Rico is an integral part of the United States and has been for nearly a century. Its residents have enjoyed birthright citizenship since March 2, 1917, thanks to the Jones-Shafroth Act. Full citizenship was later extended to “All persons born in Puerto Rico on or after April 11, 1899,” by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) and the Republican-led Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility released the GOP’s latest policy plan to cut government anti-poverty assistance programs. Many of the arguments in favor of Ryan’s proposed reforms are based on easily debunked right-wing media myths and poor-shaming. Ryan’s rhetoric in this poverty “reform” agenda -- titled “A Better Way to Fight Poverty” -- is gentler than in his previous policy proposals. But his plans are still based on myths, and his solutions once again are focused on gutting vital programs designed to assist Americans struggling to make ends meet and families in need.
Ryan’s Agenda To Lift Americans Out Of Poverty Skips Over Raising Sub-Poverty Minimum Wages
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) concluded a June 7 press conference meant to highlight his recent proposals to reform federal anti-poverty programs by confirming that he remains opposed to initiatives aimed at raising local, state, and federal minimum wages. Ryan’s stated opposition to the minimum wage recycles easily debunked right-wing media myths about the supposed negative side-effects of living wages.
On June 7, the speaker released a report from the Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility. The plan outlines a number of standard conservative proposals to “reform” anti-poverty programs in the United States, but one thing it almost completely ignores is the minimum wage. In fact, the lone mention of the word “minimum wage” appears as part of an argument pushing the debunked “Welfare Cliff” myth, the claim that low-income, single moms are so heavily subsidized by government benefits that they have no incentive to pursue professional advancement.
At the conclusion of his press conference, Ryan was asked by two reporters to comment on a plan in Washington, D.C. to raise the municipal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020 and then index it to inflation. In just over a minute, Ryan proceeded to parrot numerous debunked charges commonly leveled against the minimum wage by right-wing antagonists. From CNN Newsroom:
Ryan’s anti-minimum wage talking points are either misleading, or outright false. Ryan also missed basic facts of D.C.’s minimum wage initiative, which the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) estimates will result in increased wages for one-fifth of the city’s private sector workers.
Ryan claimed that raising the minimum wage “prices entry-level jobs away from people” before engaging in the common right-wing media tactic of reciting a story of his own youthful experiences working in the fast-food industry.
Right-wing media frequently claim that minimum wage positions are meant to be entry-level jobs (usually just for teenagers), but the fact is that the majority of minimum wage workers are adults over the age of 25 and less than one-quarter of minimum wage workers are aged 16 to 19. Women make up a disproportionate number of minimum wage workers, and according to July 2015 research from EPI, stand to benefit considerably from an increased minimum wage.
Ryan claimed that working at McDonald’s was “a great way to learn skills,” a wage and job mobility myth about fast food workers frequently parroted by right-wing media. But according to a July 2013 report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), the fast-food industry is particularly bad at providing actual opportunities for advancement to low-wage workers. Entry-level workers account for 89 percent of fast food industry workers, and only a tiny fraction move on to management or ownership positions.
Ryan concluded his remarks by saying that he does not want to “cap” wages, he wants to “unleash” them, and institute policies that create “the kind of economy, and economic growth … that help get people better jobs, in a better economy, that has a more promising future for them.” Those claims echo a common right-wing media myth, that economic growth can indirectly lift millions of Americans out of poverty without the need for targeted programs.
But the budget, economic, and tax proposals Ryan and his fellow Republicans repeatedly support do not generate the economic growth they promise. The trickle-down economic principles he has spent a career endorsing are a proven failure.
If economic growth alone was the key to solving poverty and reducing economic inequality, both would have been wiped out decades ago. According to a January 29 report from the Brookings Institution, the relationship between economic growth and improved economic inclusion is “relatively weak” across the United States. The Brookings research seems to support a hypothesis endorsed by economists Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) and Elise Gould of the EPI, who argue that economic growth alone is not enough to reduce economic insecurity in the face of persistent inequality.
An editorial published by the Las Vegas Review-Journal insisted that student debt is “manageable for most students” and recycled previously debunked conservative talking points to fault student loan forgiveness programs and federal aid for America’s college debt crisis. The paper also echoed right-wing myths to argue that tuition “costs inevitably go up” in response to low-interest federal loans and dismiss progressive concerns about for-profit schools.
Media Should Question The Speaker And Presumptive GOP Nominee About The Compatibility Of Their Poverty Proposals
Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) have engaged in a war of words regarding Trump’s racist attack on the federal judge presiding over two class action lawsuits against Trump University. Despite the recent infighting, Trump and Ryan seem to agree in principle on the latter’s vision for a complete overhaul of federal anti-poverty programs. Reporters need to ask the Republican nominee, and the speaker, if the Ryan reform agenda is truly Trump-endorsed.
During an appearance on the June 5 edition of CBS’ Face the Nation, host John Dickerson asked Trump to comment on Ryan’s June 2 endorsement of his presidential candidacy. Trump responded that he found Ryan “appealing” because “he’s a good man” who “wants good things for the country.” Trump said that he expected to “agree on many things” with the highest-ranking elected Republican in the country, specifically citing Ryan’s positions on poverty:
Trump’s decision to bring up Ryan’s supposed zeal to “take people out of poverty” was no accident, as it had been widely reported that the speaker planned to roll out his renewed poverty reform agenda in the coming days. On June 7, Ryan released a report from the so-called Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility.
The report was nothing new for Ryan, closely echoing the positions espoused during the speaker’s sham poverty forum in January and his appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in March. It struck a softer tone than the overt poor-shaming Ryan has promoted in the past, but it still pushed the same kinds of policies that MSNBC’s Steve Benen previously slammed as “brutal” for the poor.
During Ryan’s June 7 press conference announcing the proposed poverty program reforms, he repeatedly stated that his plan would have “a better likelihood of passing” if Trump were president of the United States. From the June 7 edition of CNN Newsroom:
Media outlets are notorious for stumbling into the role of Ryan’s public relations outfit, frequently portraying his budget, economic, and tax reform policies as serious proposals rather than right-wing agenda items. The instinct to treat Ryan as a voice of reason has been particularly pronounced since the speaker decided to zero in on poverty.
Ryan has now formally endorsed Trump for president, and Trump has tacitly endorsed Ryan’s proposed reforms. Now that the final plan has been made public, reporters need to ask Trump if he actually endorses Ryan’s plan. And they should ask Ryan if he can accept the endorsement of a man whom he just accused of engaging in “the textbook definition of a racist comment” with his attacks on a Hispanic federal judge.