Fox News is misleadingly touting the results of a recent poll to falsely claim that a majority of Americans don't care about inequality and believe that government should do nothing to reduce it.
On the January 23 edition of Fox & Friends, hosts Brian Kilmeade, Steve Doocy, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck discussed the recent policy pivot by Republicans and Democrats toward addressing income inequality. During the segment, the results of Fox News poll in which respondents were asked to prioritize pressing economic issues were displayed on screen:
Doocy used the results of the poll to claim that Americans are unconcerned about rising income inequality:
DOOCY: This is what you're concerned about. Forty percent of you are worried most about jobs and unemployment. About the same number worried about the deficit and how much the government spends. Meanwhile, you wind up with "income inequality" at only 12 percent.
Later that day on America's Newsroom, co-host Martha MacCallum and Fox News contributor Monica Crowley returned to the poll, claiming that the results also showed most Americans do not want the government to take action to reduce income inequality. During the segment, the following graphic ran on the screen:
Fox, and the poll they cite, are creating a false choice between reducing income inequality, creating jobs, and addressing the deficit.
Numerous economists, including Jared Bernstein, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, and Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman have argued that rising inequality is bad for the economy and creates a drag on economic growth. Furthermore, in their recent book, "Getting Back to Full Employment," Bernstein and economist Dean Baker outlined proposals that could create jobs while lifting wages and reducing reliance on government safety net programs, thereby positively impacting job creation while reducing some pressure from the federal budget. In the view of many prominent economists, Americans do not have to choose between jobs, deficit reduction, or reducing economic inequality; sensible policies can be implemented to address each issue.
Additionally, while MacCallum suggested that few Americans want government action to reduce inequality, the actual poll shows that participants were never asked about inequality. Instead of being asked "How do you feel about income inequality" as Fox showed on air, the actual question in the poll was "How do you feel about the fact that some people make a lot more money than others?"
Differences in individual earnings, which the poll asked about, and structural inequality -- the idea that a small share of earners at the top capture nearly all income gains -- are not the same thing.
When Americans are asked directly about whether or not government should do anything to mitigate income inequality, the results are quite different from what Fox claims. According to a January 23 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center and USA Today, 69 percent of Americans believe that government should do "a lot" or "some" to reduce inequality.
Furthermore, a majority of respondents -- 54 percent -- support raising taxes on the wealthy and expanding programs for the poor in order to help close the income gap.
Media Matters research shows that Fox, along with other right-wing media outlets, consistently misrepresents the issue of economic inequality. These skewed poll results are just the latest in a long line of examples.
From the January 22 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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A new right-wing media narrative is brandishing out-of-context statistics on inherited wealth to argue that lower-income Americans are disproportionately benefiting from inherited wealth transfers, unlike the wealthiest Americans who earn their wealth with hard work.
As a national dialogue heats up over the problem of global and domestic income inequality, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and others are rushing to the defense of the wealthiest Americans by claiming that low-income Americans simply don't work as hard as their wealthy peers. As evidence, the conservative outlets are pointing to a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) study showing top income brackets inherit a smaller percentage of their wealth than do lower income Americans, a finding that, according to National Review's Kevin Williamson, proves that rich Americans "work more -- a lot more."
The January 22 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends hosted Williamson to discuss his theory, and co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck introduced his segment by saying, "It's easy to assume that the rich inherit their money without earning it. But in reality, under 15 percent of top income earners inherit their wealth, while more than 40 percent of lower income earners inherit theirs." Fellow co-host Brian Kilmeade added, "So how does the rich really make their money? ... By hard work! That's the conclusion. Wealthy households tend to have four times the amount of full-time workers than poorer households."
Rush Limbaugh read from the National Review post on the January 21 edition of his radio show, stating that "The middle class and the poor, a greater percentage of their assets come from inheritance than from working, rich Americans. The country would be far better off if more people actually lived the way the top 20 percent do. If they actually worked like the top 20 percent do."
Ignoring the fact that Limbaugh, Friends, and National Review are attacking a straw man -- they never identify anyone who is arguing that wealthy Americans don't work hard -- their argument omits an important statistic from the BLS study they cite: The average value of "wealth transfers" (of which inheritances are a large percentage) to low-income Americans versus those to wealthier Americans.
BLS did indeed find that among the households in the highest income brackets, transfers accounted for only 12.6 percent of net worth. What Fox and the like omit is the fact that the average value of wealth transfers received by the top 1 percent of U.S. households was a whopping $1,045,200 in 2007. That's twenty-five times the average value of inheritances for households in the lowest income bracket, whose average inheritance was $42,000 the same year. For lower-income earners, 42 grand is a large chunk of their total wealth. But the average wealth of households in the top 1 percent isaround $16,439,400 -- so a million dollar inheritance is not as impactful.
From the January 21 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Conservative media figures have sharply criticized the recent push by Democratic politicians to alleviate poverty and reduce economic inequality. However, most of this criticism is grounded in a number of myths about the causes, effects, and importance of growing economic inequality in the United States.
Fox News seized on Colorado's legalization of recreational use and sale of marijuana to stoke fears -- while offering no evidence -- that low-income Americans could use food stamps to buy marijuana. In fact, food stamp recipients are barred from purchasing non-food items, cannot withdraw food stamps as cash, and fraud in the program is extremely rare.
After a Colorado law allowing the legal sale of marijuana went into effect in 2014, an urban myth spread that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, commonly known as food stamps) recipients could use electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards to withdraw SNAP benefits as cash at ATMs located in marijuana dispensaries in order to buy marijuana. Colorado senate Republicans introduced a bill to ban the use of EBT cards at those ATMs, but the bill failed after Democratic lawmakers raised concerns about restricting recipients' access to benefits in areas with few ATMs.
Despite lack of evidence and the failure of the bill, Fox News continued perpetuating the myth that SNAP recipients can use benefits to buy marijuana. The January 21 edition of Fox & Friends included on-screen text that read, "Food stamps for pot!" Another line of text claimed that the bill would "ban food stamps at pot shops."
Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade introduced the segment by asking, "Can people collecting food stamps in Colorado add marijuana to their shopping lists?" and answering,"Right now the answer is yes."
David Brooks has a problem with single mothers.
The New York Times opinion columnist scapegoated unmarried moms for their poverty in his January 16 column, joining a chorus of media figures who have ignored basic economics to suggest that marriage is a magic-bullet solution to poverty.
Brooks claimed that "someone being rich doesn't make someone poor," arguing that discussions of income inequality have been too focused on disparities in wealth and not focused enough on the "fraying of social fabric" and the "morally fraught social and cultural roots of the problem," which he pinned in part on single motherhood (emphasis added):
There is a very strong correlation between single motherhood and low social mobility. There is a very strong correlation between high school dropout rates and low mobility. There is a strong correlation between the fraying of social fabric and low economic mobility. There is a strong correlation between de-industrialization and low social mobility. It is also true that many men, especially young men, are engaging in behaviors that damage their long-term earning prospects; much more than comparable women.
Low income is the outcome of these interrelated problems, but it is not the problem. To say it is the problem is to confuse cause and effect. To say it is the problem is to give yourself a pass from exploring the complex and morally fraught social and cultural roots of the problem. It is to give yourself permission to ignore the parts that are uncomfortable to talk about but that are really the inescapable core of the thing.
First, Brooks is wrong on the basic arithmetic of income inequality. As economist Elise Gould at the Economic Policy Institute has explained, "if it had not been for growing economic inequality, the poverty rate would be at or near zero today." This is because without inequality, economic growth would be shared equitably among all income levels; instead, since the 1970s, growing inequality has increased poverty, as the rich benefit more from economic growth.
Second, the "problem" of single motherhood is not that mothers aren't married; it's that significant numbers of unmarried mothers don't have access to basic support systems like childcare, paid family and medical leave, and family planning -- necessary social supports that Brooks dismisses in favor of fearmongering about "fraying of social fabric."
The recently released Shriver Report on women's economic realities in America found that economic policies and programs that improve access to education and child care can do more to help decrease economic hardship for women than marriage ever could. Karen Kornbluh, former ambassador to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, also noted that childcare, after-school programs, and health care reform would provide single mothers the needed flexibility to work more secure and economically beneficial jobs.
If poverty were simply an effect of unmarried parenthood, it would seem logical that both single mothers and fathers would face similar experiences. But the Shriver Report also found that single mothers spend more on housing than single fathers, and most likely work minimum-wage jobs. Poverty, and income inequality, are the results of structural economic problems, which disproportionally affect women -- not the other way around.
(Image: Shriver Report, via Feministing)
Media figures who insist that single mothers are to blame for their own poverty ignore these economic realities, and distract from the conversation we should be having: that all families, regardless of structure, need access to basic social goods like equal pay, family planning, and childcare; benefits which economists have shown would improve the economy and reduce poverty for everyone.
Fox News personalities have repeatedly attempted to downplay income inequality, claiming that it doesn't exist, that it is unfixable, or that it's a distraction from other issues. Nevertheless, the network still blamed the widening income gap on President Obama and what one Fox reporter called "Obamanomics."
In December 2013, President Obama declared that reversing the widening gap in income inequality -- the distribution of economic gains to a small percentage of the population, which, in this case, favors the very wealthy -- is "the defining challenge of our time," and began unveiling a legislative agenda aimed at addressing that trend.
Fox pundits have repeatedly dismissed concerns over growing income inequality in the United States. Fox correspondent Doug McKelway once claimed it was merely "class resentment," that exists because "some people are better, smarter, harder-working, or luckier than others." Bill O'Reilly called it "bull." When the network has acknowledged income inequality, its contributors have claimed that there is "no way" growing inequality is "going to be stopped," that attempting to reverse it will result in "chronic unemployment," and that the Obama administration's focus on closing the income gap is merely a "distraction."
But that didn't stop Fox Business senior correspondent Charlie Gasparino from blaming Obama's economic policies. On the January 16 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, Gasparino called the president a "big class warfare guy," and claimed "there is more income inequality under Obamanomics." Previously, Fox misconstrued a report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) to claim that the president's policies were responsible for declining wages. The NELP later told Media Matters that Fox's misrepresentation of their report was "shamelessly partisan and completely inaccurate spin on economic facts."
In reality, income inequality has been growing for decades, long before the president took office. From Mother Jones:
Right-wing media denied the effectiveness of anti-poverty policies in response to President Obama's recent push to reduce income inequality, instead hyping marriage as a preferable economic solution. But experts have rejected that notion, citing a systemic lack of economic opportunity as a more critical issue.
Fox News downplayed the connection between income inequality and poverty in an attempt to dismiss government efforts to reduce the growing problem.
On the January 14 edition of Fox News' Special Report, correspondent Doug McKelway dismissed concern over the nation's rising income inequality as a simple issue of "class resentment." He attributed the problem of inequality to capitalism's system of rewards and punishments, because "some people are better, smarter, harder-working, or luckier than others," later adding, "numerous studies show the greatest predictor of poverty is not income inequality."
The Las Vegas Review-Journal misleadingly attacked a proposal to increase the minimum wage by incorrectly claiming that doing so would hurt job growth and do little to reduce poverty.
In a January 12 editorial, the paper attacked a recent push to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10, arguing that Democratic proposals were little more than distractions "from the party's Obamacare debacle." The paper misleadingly claimed that raising the minimum wage would increase unemployment, especially for workers under the age of 25, before concluding that, given other so-called "broken promises" from President Obama, the public should be skeptical of claims that higher wages would reduce poverty.
But comprehensive studies of the employment effects of the minimum wage don't back up the assertions laid out by the Review-Journal, which has used this tired line of attack -- or allowed anti-minimum wage increase lobbyists to do so -- in its opinion pages before. One analysis by economists Paul Wolfson of Dartmouth and Dale Belman of Michigan State looked at several studies published on the effects of the minimum wage since 2000. Wolfson and Belman found that, while some studies showed slightly positive employment effects and others slightly negative employment effects, across all studies there was no statistically significant negative impact on employment. A similar report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research on the employment effect of the minimum wage also concluded that, "employment responses generally cluster near zero, and are more likely to be positive than negative."
It's no secret income inequality is on the rise nationwide. Research from economist Emmanueal Saez of the University of California, Berkeley shows inequality at its highest level since 1928. In Nevada, according to a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities release, income for the poorest 20 percent of residents remained stagnant from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s. That stagnation led to the richest 5 percent of households having average incomes 13.0 times larger than the bottom 20 percent of households. A report by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Center for Democratic Culture found that 16.8 percent of Nevada's population lives in "poverty areas," with African-American, American Indians, and Latino populations all having more than 20 percent of their populations living in poverty.
From the January 10 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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From the January 10 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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From the January 9 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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From the January 9 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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