Jobs, Wages, & Unemployment

Issues ››› Jobs, Wages, & Unemployment
  • NY Times Distorts Food Stamp Data, Saying Recipients Buy Lots Of “Unhealthful Foods”

    In Fact, Report Shows SNAP Beneficiaries Have Similar Purchasing Habits To Non-SNAP Shoppers

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    A recent article in The New York Times grossly misinterpreted the findings of a government review of nationwide grocery purchases by participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as “food stamps.” The article incorrectly portrayed the study as showing that “a disproportionate amount of food stamp money is going toward unhealthful foods,” when in reality it showed that Americans across the board purchase similar items and that overall, everyone could be eating in healthier ways. The suggestion that SNAP recipients are somehow guilty of wasting money on frivolous food purchases is a tired right-wing media attack, and the Times’ sloppy handling of the recently released data is sure to embolden opponents of federal anti-poverty programs.

    On November 18, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which administers the federal food security program, released a report analyzing purchases at “a leading grocery retailer” in 2011. A key finding in the data was that “food purchases, consumption patterns, and dietary outcomes among SNAP participants and higher income households are more similar than different.” Recipients of SNAP benefits spent slightly more of their grocery budget on meats and “sweetened beverages” (which include many juices and soft drinks) while non-SNAP households spent slightly more on vegetables and “high fat dairy” items. Overall, “differences in the expenditure patterns … were relatively limited” across all major grocery categories:

    According to the USDA’s summary of its findings, households that receive SNAP benefits and households that do not receive benefits have similar consumption habits, including the habit of purchasing food items like “sweetened beverages,” “soft drinks,” “salty snacks,” and other junk foods that “may not be fully consistent with” preferred dietary guidelines. Indeed, according to the full November 2016 report, the seven most common grocery purchases of SNAP and non-SNAP consumers are virtually the same, with “soft drinks” ranking first for SNAP households and second for all other customers and “bag snacks” ranking fourth for SNAP households and fifth for others:

    However, The New York Times published a headline that seems to condemn low-income Americans for buying soft drinks -- “In the Shopping Cart of a Food Stamp Household: Lots of Soda” -- and its piece noted that advocates of healthy living “have called for restrictions so that food stamps cannot be used to buy junk food or sugary soft drinks.”

    Rebecca Vallas and Katherine Gallagher Robbins of the Center for American Progress slammed the article in a blog for Talk Poverty, noting that the misleading article was accompanied by an image “of a grocery cart overflowing with 2-liter bottles of soft drinks and a store aisle that is nothing but a wall of soda.”

    Talk Poverty cited several examples of research refuting the Times’ stance along with experts who “took to social media to highlight the study’s actual findings”:

    • University of Minnesota sociologist Joe Soss called the article “a political hack job on a program that helps millions of Americans” and said it  “peddled harmful myths and outright lies” in a Facebook post as well as a January 16 column for Jacobin magazine;
    • University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen analyzed the data and reported on Twitter that SNAP recipients were only slightly more likely than others to buy “sweetened beverages” but more than three times more likely to buy “baby food” because so many users have young children; and
    • The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) found in a June 2016 report that increasing SNAP benefits, rather than restricting their use, addresses food insecurity more broadly while also helping low-income families afford healthier (and more expensive) food items.

    Aside from missing the point of the USDA study, the Times’ report has several other issues. From the outset, the article defines SNAP as a “$74 billion food stamp program,” which makes the program sound extremely large even though it actually comprises a relatively small piece of the $3.6 trillion federal dollars spent in 2011. Reporting incomprehensible raw numbers in this way is not informative, it’s a scare tactic, and The New York Times publicly committed in October 2013 to improving its reporting on exactly this issue.

    The Times also quoted a professor who erroneously claimed that “SNAP is a multibillion-dollar taxpayer subsidy of the soda industry.” The amount of SNAP dollars going to the purchase of soft drinks was $357.7 million in 2011, far shy of “a multibillion-dollar” giveaway.

    Furthermore, by promoting the misleading premise that SNAP users are wasting tax dollars on junk food, the Times provided ammunition to political interests set on destroying the program. Right-wing media outlets have spent years demonizing SNAP and other food assistance programs based on the premise that these outlets know better than the recipients themselves what the latter should be eating. This misinformation campaign has already impacted public policy, spurring Republican lawmakers in several states and in Congress to pursue unnecessary restrictions that hurt working families.

    Finally, buried in the eighth paragraph of the Times piece, the paper quotes a USDA spokesperson who points out that the question “Are we consuming too many sweetened beverages, period?” can be applied to “all households,” not just SNAP recipients.

    Even after admitting 15 paragraphs down that “food stamp recipients and other households generally made similar purchases,” the Times pivoted back to claiming the data are “deeply troubling” to public health experts focused on the pervasiveness of a sugar-rich diet on obesity. The Times quoted obesity expert Dr. David Ludwig, who called for restrictions against using SNAP on food items “that are demonstrably going to undermine public health.” The article chose not to cite an April 2014 report by public health experts affiliated with the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), which found that childhood access to food stamps in their current form actually already contributes to “a significant reduction” in obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes later in life.

    If the Times wanted to tackle the problems created by the traditional American junk food diet, the paper could have followed the example set by comedian and Last Week Tonight host John Oliver, whose excellent October 25, 2014, takedown of the sugar industry addressed the issue without targeting a single low-income family.

  • Mainstream Media Echoes Pro-Trump Fringe, Credit Trump For New GM Jobs That Were “Planned For Months”

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    General Motors (GM) announced a $1 billion investment in US jobs and factories that it stressed at the time was “part of the normal process” and had “been planned for months.” Nonetheless, several major media outlets gave credit to Trump in either their headlines or first few paragraphs, downplaying that the decision was previously planned. Many pro-Trump outlets earlier did the same or framed the decision entirely as a Trump-influenced effort, some by referencing a tweet Trump wrote in early January in which he threatened a “big border tax” if GM sells Mexican-made cars in the United States.

  • Right-Wing Media Fall For Dubious Claim Alibaba Will Create 1 Million U.S. Jobs

    ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET

    Right-wing media outlets ran with Alibaba Group Executive Chairman Jack Ma’s claim that Alibaba would “create 1 million U.S. jobs” in the US by allowing the sale of American goods to China on their platform. While right-wing media outlets cite Alibaba’s dubious statement as a victory for President-elect Donald Trump, the company’s vague plan relies on claims of indirect job growth.

  • Fox News Retools Misleading Jobs Report Spin One Last Time

    Will The Network Continue Its Nitpicking Misinformation Campaign After Trump Takes Office?

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Today marked the release of the final monthly jobs report during President Obama’s time in office, and Fox News wasted no time in spinning the document, which showed consistent job gains, new workforce entries, and sizable year-to-year wage increases, by claiming that it’s “not a great picture of the employment situation.” The network has exploited the monthly jobs report to attack the president since he took office in January 2009, but its campaign of misinformation will likely come to a screeching halt next month.

    On the first Friday of every month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) releases its monthly employment situation summary detailing key indicators of the national labor market from the previous month. The report for December 2016 showed another month of consistent performance from the American economy, with 156,000 new jobs created, a 2.9 percent increase in hourly wages over the previous year, and the unemployment rate remaining “little changed” at 4.7 percent. The December jobs figure came in below some economic forecasts, but the miss was offset by major upward revisions to jobs estimates in October and November. Meanwhile, the slight 0.1-point increase in the unemployment rate was driven mostly by an influx of job seekers entering the labor market last month. According to The Wall Street Journal, December marked the 75th consecutive month of job growth -- the longest streak on record.

    On CNN’s New Day, chief business correspondent Christine Romans outlined the details of what she called “a solid finish to the year.” Romans said the economy created roughly 2.2 million jobs in 2016 and stressed that “altogether for the Obama presidency, it’s a net 11 million new jobs” even though he inherited the Great Recession and took office in a year when “5 million jobs just disappeared”:

    Investment analyst and Bloomberg View columnist Conor Sen argued that the December report “is about as strong of a jobs print as we can get at this point in the cycle.” University of Michigan economist and New York Times columnist Justin Wolfers compared the economy to “the little engine that could,” arguing that after accounting for prevailing economic trends, the December report was “good news.” New York Times senior economic correspondent Neil Irwin noted that the 2.9 percent average hourly wage increase “is the highest of this expansion,” concluding, “Boom.” Economist Elise Gould of the Economic Policy Institute wrote in a January 6 blog post, “All told, it’s clear that the next president is inheriting an economy much stronger than it was at the start of the previous administration,” a sentiment echoed by MSNBC’s Steve Benen, who said the report stands as yet more evidence that “the president is handing off a healthy economy to his successor (who spent 2016 telling voters the economy is terrible).”

    The generally positive outlook on the economy portrayed by these journalists, economists, and other experts was once again absent at Fox News, which painted the report as another example of the president’s failing policies.

    Fox Business host Stuart Varney slammed the report all morning on Varney & Co., and he invited several guests to claim that the report was proof of a sputtering and “sick” economy. Fox & Friends co-hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade lamented the report as “not a great picture of the employment situation in the country,” ignoring all its positive indicators, while guest and Trump apologist Jeanine Pirro slammed the Obama administration for its supposed failure to advance the economic interests of African-Americans. (Many observers had noted that the December report actually showed the unemployment rate for African-Americans falling to its lowest point since August 2007.) From the January 6 edition of Fox & Friends:

  • Trump Reportedly Considering Non-Economist CNBC Pundit To Head Council Of Economic Advisors

    Media Explain Trump’s Decision: “Kudlow Isn’t An Economist, But He Plays One On TV”

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    President-elect Donald Trump is reportedly considering CNBC financial pundit and conservative political commentator Larry Kudlow to replace economist Jason Furman as the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA). Kudlow built his career in conservative media as an advocate of failed trickle-down economic policies, and he is notorious for making faulty predictions and sharing misleading analyses. He may soon be rewarded for those efforts with one of the most prestigious economic jobs in the United States.

    According to a December 15 report from The Detroit News, discredited right-wing economic pundit and Trump adviser Stephen Moore told the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce that the president-elect planned to name Kudlow as the chairman of the CEA before the end of the week. Moore later told the paper that he “misspoke” and that Kudlow is “on the short list” for a CEA appointment, but it is not “a done deal.”

    As The Washington Post pointed out, Kudlow’s rumored consideration for a key White House appointment is “another unorthodox pick” for the incoming administration because Kudlow “lacks a graduate or undergraduate degree in economics and has not written scholarly papers on the subject.” As has been the case with more than a dozen Trump appointees and rumored selections, Kudlow’s primary qualification for serving as the president’s chief economist is that “he plays one on TV,” as David Dayen explained in The Nation:

    The overriding quality necessary for landing a position in Donald Trump’s administration is that Trump has to know you from TV. Most of his cabinet selections have logged plenty of time in cable-news green rooms.

    [...]

    So in that context, floating Larry Kudlow to run the Council of Economic Advisers is perfectly apt. Kudlow isn’t an economist, but he plays one on TV. And more important, he confidently (and usually wrongly) favors what has to be seen as the dominant economic gospel of the Trump administration: tax cuts.

    Over the course of his long career as a right-wing media personality, Kudlow has become synonymous with the failed trickle-down economic agenda favored by conservative politicians. He has also established a track record of being “usually wrong and frequently absurd” with faulty predictions and analysis that could undermine the economic security of hardworking Americans. As outlined by The Huffington Post, Kudlow’s “spectacular record of wrongness” may be what makes him a “perfect” adviser for Trump.

    Kudlow Totally Missed The Financial Crisis, Refused To Acknowledge Recession

    According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), an award-winning nonprofit research organization that is perhaps best-known for determining a chronology of American business cycles and recessions, the Great Recession began in December 2007. Yet Kudlow published blogs on December 5, 6, and 7 of that year titled “The Recession Debate Is Over,” “There Ain’t No Recession,” and “Bush Boom Continues,” in the conservative National Review. By July 2008, as the unemployment rate continued to balloon in the seventh month of recession, Kudlow was still arguing in National Review that there was no recession or housing crisis. In May 2016, having finally come to terms with reality of the housing crash, Kudlow co-authored an op-ed in the right-wing Washington Times blaming Bill and Hillary Clinton because of a legislative initiative in the 1990s that made lines of credit more accessible to low-income families.

    Kudlow Is A Notorious Poor-Shamer

    During a March 2016 appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Kudlow participated in a panel discussion where he lectured single parents in low-income families about poverty despite professing to have “virtually no knowledge in this field.” He bragged that he is "ignorant" of many issues facing such families, but said he felt he could speak to them because "there's enough documentation for ignorant people" to talk effectively about the supposed cause-effect relationship between poverty and single parenting. In November 2014, Kudlow spoke on the same subject at the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation. Kudlow also used his National Review blog to promote a column by right-winger Cal Thomas that praised his misleading remarks. Kudlow’s position that marriage is a silver bullet solution to poverty is common among right-wing media personalities and conservative politicians, but the idea has been completely discredited by experts.

    Kudlow Thought War In The Middle East Might Boost The Stock Market

    In a June 2002 column, Kudlow lamented that “the economy is doing fine but the stock market is slumping” and argued that “decisive shock therapy to revive the American spirit would surely come with a U.S. invasion of Iraq.” Kudlow apparently hoped newfound wartime confidence and a surge of military spending would inflate the economy, but as economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) concluded in a May 2007 report on the economic impact of the Iraq War, “Military spending drains resources from the productive economy.” Kudlow’s views Middle Eastern warfare and the stock market were not isolated in Iraq, in an August 2006 column, he claimed that “global investors are cheering Israel’s advance” in a war against Lebanese fighters that left thousands of soldiers and civilians killed or injured.

    Kudlow Is A Climate Science Denier

    Media Matters conducted a study of CNBC’s coverage of climate change in 2013, finding that several CNBC figures, including Kudlow, denied the science of man-made climate change altogether. Kudlow attempted to further muddy the waters on climate science in an October 2014 blog by hyping a deeply flawed op-ed published by the conservative Wall Street Journal that misleadingly claimed “Climate Science Is Not Settled.” Kudlow’s continued aversion to the scientific consensus on climate change presents problems for U.S. economic stability, as dozens of business and industry leaders have already begun taking climatic shifts into account in their long-term planning.

    Kudlow Actually Disagrees With Trump On Trade

    One of the few economic policies at the core of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was his opposition to major international trade deals. He spent months attacking his opponents for their support of free trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and promised to immediately withdraw from the deal after taking office. Kudlow has been a major TPP supporter and wrote in a May 1, 2015, column for National Review that “Obama deserves credit” for trying to get the deal signed and ratified. In a March 11 column for CNBC, in which he responded to severe criticism from fellow conservatives, Kudlow stated, “I continue to oppose Donald Trump’s trade policies.”

  • News Outlets Learn The Hard Way Not To Trust Trump’s Tweets

    The President-Elect Drives Misleading News Coverage 140 Characters At A Time

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Since his victory, President-elect Donald Trump has used his Twitter account to generate positive news about himself across the spectrum of media platforms, implanting misleading narratives about his business and economic acumen into national news -- sometimes for days at a time. Reports on the tentative nature of jobs he had supposedly “saved” at an Indiana factory offer a perfect example of why journalists should be wary of treating the president-elect’s boasts as newsworthy.

    On November 30, Fortune magazine reported that Trump had struck a deal with Indiana-based appliance manufacturer Carrier to provide taxpayer-funded incentives to the company if it agreed to keep several hundred jobs in the United States. In a tweet, Trump boasted that he would soon meet “the great workers of Carrier,” proclaiming that “they will sell many air conditioners!” Broadcast and cable news outlets heaped praise on the president-elect’s “symbolic coup.” In a December 1 speech at the Carrier facility in Indianapolis, Trump took credit for saving “over 1,100 jobs” and said the number of jobs kept safe “is going to go up very substantially.”

    A few days later, the flimsy Carrier story had completely fallen apart.

    Initial reports detailed how, in exchange for a multimillion dollar handout, the manufacturer was only keeping some jobs in Indiana -- the rest were still going to Mexico. By December 6, Chuck Jones, the president of the United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1999, was irate that hundreds of union jobs were still scheduled to be outsourced after Trump had promised to save them, according to The Washington Post. “For whatever reason,” said Jones, the president-elect “lied his a-- off.” During a December 7 interview with CNN, Carrier employee T.J. Bray compared the farce to “a dog and pony show” and expressed his disappointment that “we are still losing a lot of workers.”

    On December 9, CNNMoney reported that some of the millions of taxpayer dollars doled out as part of the Carrier deal “will be invested in automation” that will soon “replace some of the jobs that were just saved.” According to Carrier, automation is the only way they can compete with low-cost labor in Mexico. CNNMoney correctly reported that the sharp decline in American manufacturing employment is “thanks in large part to more efficient factories.” Workforce automation has been a fact of life since the 1800s, but that point was obfuscated by Trump, who misled workers at Carrier and around the country, many of whom think they are losing their jobs to free trade and immigration.

    The days-long saga of news outlets cutting through the spin on this Carrier deal, which included the president-elect attacking Chuck Jones on Twitter, resulting in Jones receiving death threats from Trump supporters, follows a familiar pattern.

    Trump tweeted that he had single-handedly kept a Ford plant from moving to Mexico, on November 17. Conservative media outlets rushed to give him credit and many mainstream outlets followed suit, but, upon further investigation, it turned out that Ford’s decision had nothing to do with Trump. The plant “was never moving to Mexico” to begin with and no jobs were on the chopping block.

    On December 6, Trump tweeted that “costs are out of control” on what he claimed was a “more than $4 billion” contract between Boeing and the U. S. government to update Air Force One. Trump concluded his tweet with “Cancel the order!” As Trump’s tweet drove news coverage, Boeing shares plunged more than 1 percent -- an almost $1 billion hit to the company’s market capitalization. Hours later, a fact-check from The Washington Post revealed that almost every word in the tweet was exaggerated, false, or misleading but the damage had already been done. Trump’s intervention set such a dangerous precedent that even Fox News’ Karl Rove was aghast.

    Later on December 6, Trump staged an impromptu press availability in the elevator lobby of Trump Tower with Japanese telecommunications mogul Masayoshi Son. In a brief statement and corresponding tweets, Trump claimed credit for landing a $50 billion investment commitment that would create 50,000 jobs and national media spent the rest of the day praising him. ThinkProgress editor Judd Legum predicted that Trump’s “formula for manipulating the public” through “substance-free tweets” and fawning media would succeed because “people will have largely moved on” by the time reporters uncovered the details. He was right. The next morning, reports from The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, and CNN showed that Trump may have had little influence on the deal.

    The problem of media amplifying his misinformation isn’t confined to economic policy. A November 27 tweet falsely claiming Hillary Clinton received “millions” of illegal votes generated so much media attention that it has become gospel for many Trump supporters. PolitiFact, which traced the illegal voter conspiracy to Trump ally and 9/11 truther Alex Jones, rated the claim “False”, calling it "obscenely ludicrous.”

    The fact that Trump’s boasts always seem to crumble in the face of modest scrutiny is a telling sign. Media outlets need to stop letting Trump’s tweets dictate and drive the news cycle and stop accepting his self-promotion at face value.

  • Major Newspapers Fail To Grasp Severity Of Putting Andy Puzder In Charge Of Labor Department

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Initial reporting on the president-elect’s selection of fast-food CEO Andy Puzder to replace Tom Perez as the next secretary of labor depicted Puzder as a “vocal” critic of Obama administration policies while failing to note the conservative media-fueled inaccuracies that inform the incoming secretary’s anti-worker views.

    On December 8, The Wall Street Journal was first to report that President-elect Donald Trump planned to name Puzder -- the CEO of CKE Restaurants, which owns the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s burger chains -- as the incoming labor secretary in his administration. The Journal’s report, and subsequent reporting from The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today, focused mostly on Puzder’s opposition to specific economic initiatives from the Obama administration -- raising the minimum wage, expanding overtime protections, and extending the scope of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- while failing to mention that Puzder’s arguments against each have been widely discredited:

    • The Journal reported that Puzder is a “vocal advocate for cutting back regulations,” which he claims “have stifled growth in the restaurant industry,” and concluded with the acknowledgment that Puzder has used the Journal’s own opinion pages to discuss “topics such as the negative effects of President Obama’s health-care law and of broad increase in minimum wage.”
    • The Times noted that Puzder believes “large minimum wage increases hurt small business and lead to job loss among low-skilled workers,” adding that he believes the ACA created a so-called “restaurant recession” by reducing disposable incomes that American workers would otherwise “spend dining out.”
    • The LA Times claimed that Puzder opposes raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour “because he thinks that would cost many low-wage workers their jobs,” and quoted a Forbes op-ed published by Puzder on May 18 that alleged the Obama administration had created an “extensive regulatory maze” with overtime and health care reforms that drive up labor costs and “reduced opportunities, bonuses, benefits, perks and promotions” for workers.
    • USA Today’s synopsis was much less extensive, merely labeling Puzder as “a major critic of what he calls unnecessary federal regulations, including a proposed hike in the federal minimum wage” before moving on to other rumored Trump appointments.

    Despite amplifying Puzder’s criticism of progressive economic policies, none of the outlets saw fit to mention that his arguments are wrong.

    First, Obama-era regulations have not “stifled growth in the restaurant industry” or created a “restaurant recession.” According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in the restaurant industry is up more than 20 percent since Obama took office in January 2009:

    Second, while it is true that Puzder is an ardent opponent of increased minimum wages -- he once argued that modest wage increases actually encourage low-wage workers to game the system so they can stay in poverty -- it is important to note that his arguments are unfounded. Puzder and other right-wing media personalities have waged a campaign of misinformation against raising the minimum wage, claiming that it hurts businesses and kills jobs. In reality, reliable professional studies of the minimum wage consistently find a negligible relationship between the minimum wage and employment activity.

    As is the case with Puzder’s opposition to living wages, the incoming labor secretary’s antagonism toward the ACA is also not based in facts. Right-wing media outlets and allied politicians have spent years claiming that President Obama’s signature health care reform law is hurting the economy and stymieing the job market despite all evidence to the contrary. In reality, Obamacare has reduced the uninsured rate to historic lows, has reduced medical debt and benefited public health outcomes while strengthening the economic security of low-income families.

    Finally, Puzder’s opposition to expanded overtime protections amounts to little more than retooled talking points generated by right-wing media. Conservative media outlets opposed President Obama’s proposed overtime expansion before they even knew the details, claiming it threatened to undermine American work ethic and turn the country into Greece. Puzder’s claim that a “regulatory maze,” which includes overtime expansion, has “reduced opportunities, bonuses, benefits, perks and promotions” ignores the obvious economic benefits of paying millions of American workers for the hours they actually work and that the overtime threshold “has the advantage of simplicity” that makes it efficient for employers to implement.

    Media Matters outlined the many ways media should approach his troubled relationship with the truth. If coverage today is any indication, major outlets still have a lot to learn.

  • Television News Praises Trump’s “Symbolic Coup” In Carrier Jobs Announcement

    Indiana-Based Company Convinces Trump To Give It Taxpayer Money, Still Moves Many Of Its Jobs To Mexico

    ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Broadcast and cable news personalities rushed to credit President-elect Donald Trump for closing a deal with the Indiana-based manufacturer Carrier that provides the for-profit company with millions of taxpayer dollars while allowing it to still outsource hundreds of jobs to Mexico. Journalists and reporters framed the agreement as a “symbolic coup” and “unadulterated win” for Trump’s incoming administration even as they acknowledged that supporting a relatively small number of jobs at taxpayer expense is an unsustainable manufacturing policy.