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On March 28, Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA) announced a legislative compromise to raise the California minimum wage gradually from $10 per hour in 2016 to $15 per hour by 2022. Right-wing media have attacked the historic wage increase, claiming it will kill jobs and that it "goes against every law of capitalism." Meanwhile, mainstream media have promoted misinformation about the minimum wage peddled by restaurant industry front groups.
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Media Outlets That Attack Homeless Offer No Solutions Beyond Making Them Disappear
Just hours after the New York Post dedicated its front page to shaming a homeless woman living in New York City's Hell's Kitchen area, police and other city workers arrived to throw away a significant amount of her worldly possessions. The incident, which was caught on video, provides a glimpse of the devastating real-world consequences of the right-wing media's attacks on the homeless and of their larger poor-shaming campaign.
In a March 9 article titled "She runs this town," the New York Post disparaged a homeless New York City resident named Sonia Gonzalez for the collection of belongings that she keeps with her on the street. The article featured comments from passersby complaining that Gonzalez's belongings obstruct pedestrian traffic and included an ominous quote attributed to a construction worker who said that her presence in the area threatened to set the up-and-coming neighborhood back to "what [it] was 20 years ago." As has been the case several times in the past, the Post amplified its poor-shaming article with a full front-page spread:
As a March 10 post from Gawker pointed out, police and other city workers arrived in Hell's Kitchen to forcibly dispose of the vast majority of Gonzalez's possessions just hours after the paper hit newsstands. The New York Post was on the scene to film the incident, which it published online in a blog titled "Homeless hoarder's junk train gets tossed."
The New York Post has a long-running devotion to humiliating New York City's homeless population. Last summer, the paper dedicated its July 11 front page to demeaning a homeless man for urinating in public and then excoriated the police for releasing him after his arrest the next day. In September, the paper's front page proclaimed, "We need tough love" to solve homelessness in the city, while promoting former Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani's proposal to arrest homeless people as a way of keeping them off the street. Last November, the paper hyped what it called a "vagrant fix" on its front page by encouraging New York residents to stop giving money to the homeless. A day later, the paper drove the point home by promoting claims that homeless people can make up to "$200 an hour" from charitable pedestrians.
The Post's humiliation of the homeless does not occur in a vacuum. Last summer, the paper's attacks were part of a right-wing media echo chamber that included multiple dehumanizing segments on Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor and a fraught segment on MSNBC's Morning Joe, where the co-hosts and guests worried that "the squeegees are coming" to neighborhoods like the Upper West Side. In September, after months of right-wing outlets complaining about the presence of homeless people on the streets, Fox News dedicated multiple segments to disparaging a program in Washington, D.C., that actually kept homeless families in affordable housing.
Too often, right-wing media's preferred solution to homelessness is to simply make the homeless disappear -- whether by locking them up, or destroying their belongings -- even when doing so would be a blatant violation of their constitutional rights.
H/T to Gawker for initially highlighting the New York Post cover story
Fox Continues Smear Campaign Against "Obamaphone" Program
Fox Business host Stuart Varney continued Fox News' smear campaign against the Reagan-era affordable telephone service program for low-income Americans known as Lifeline, which conservatives derisively refer to as "Obamaphones," with a segment attacking a proposed expansion to allow the subsidy to be used toward the purchase of mobile data or broadband Internet.
On the March 10 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., Stuart Varney and conservative journalist Jillian Melchior derided the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) proposal to expand the use of the Lifeline telecommunications subsidy for low-income households to include mobile data and broadband Internet. Varney lambasted the program as "ridiculous," while Melchior referred to the proposed subsidy providing qualifying families with access to the Internet as "insane." Melchior also described Lifeline as "one of the worst programs" in the government.
Contrary to Fox's extreme rhetoric, expanding the $9.25-per-month Lifeline subsidy to include its use for the purchase of broadband for low-income Americans is an important step toward alleviating poverty. According to a May 28 report from The New York Times, when the Lifeline program expansion was first floated, the proposed change would have represented the "strongest recognition yet" from the FCC "that high-speed Internet access is as essential to economic well-being as good transportation and telephone service." Citing research from Pew, The Times highlighted how low-income and minority communities lag far behind the rest of the country in broadband access.
In an exclusive March 9 interview with The Verge, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler mentioned the importance of giving low-income families "access to 21st century networks" by expanding Lifeline. Wheeler also argued in a March 8 blog post with FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn that "Internet access has become a pre-requisite for full participation in our economy and our society." On March 1, 17 public interest groups joined six broadband providers by signing a joint letter of support urging the FCC to go ahead with the expansion, stating that providing Internet access to needy families will help increase access to job training, employment opportunities, and education services. On February 29, Education Week reported on how the expansion could positively affect education by reducing the so-called "homework gap" faced by children in low-income households. According to Education Week, "70 percent of teachers assign homework that requires Internet access" but almost 5 million low-income households with children lack reliable, high-speed connections at home, which creates an additional obstacle for millions of "already disadvantaged students."
Fox News and its right-wing media allies have a long history of shaming the poor by complaining that vital anti-poverty programs are actually "trapping people" in poverty and hyping isolated instances of fraud or abuse to disparage successful anti-poverty programs. The mythical "Obamaphone" program has become one of Fox's favorite targets. In 2012, the network promoted a video of an Obama supporter praising her so-called "Obamaphone" as proof that Democrats "bribe people" to vote for them. Fox's misleading portrayals of the poor and of so-called "Obamaphones" even garnered a mocking response from President Obama during a May 12 summit on poverty. The president's biting criticism didn't stop Fox from returning to its "Obamaphone" myth-making just weeks later, when Fox Business host Charles Payne used a May 29 appearance on Fox & Friends to attack the very same Lifeline expansion proposal that Varney and Melchior attacked again today.
See the full segment from Varney & Co. below:
STUART VARNEY (HOST): Do you remember the Obamaphone program? Cell phones for the poor, subsidized by you from a tax on your phone bill? Remember that? Still around. Now we hear that program could expand to Internet service. Joining us now, Heat Street political editor Jillian Melchior. Jillian, welcome back.
JILLIAN MELCHIOR: Thank you.
MELCHIOR: It's insane.
VARNEY: I mean, it was insane. Free phones were ridiculous, now free Internet?
MELCHIOR: Yes, the FCC wants to expand this program. They are probably going to get their way when the vote comes down on March 31. They want to expand it to include Wi-Fi, and already the GOP commissioners are saying that this is insanity, that this is a program riddled with waste, fraud, and abuse. And we're not going to cut it back, we're going to grow it.
MELCHIOR: FCC wants to grow the program budget to $2.25 billion a year, that's up from $1.5 billion. Saying they think --
VARNEY: Wait a second, $1.5 billion to $2.25 billion?
MELCHIOR: $2.25 billion. Yes, and they want to sign up as many as 5 million totally new beneficiaries for this. So this is growing a program, and it's one of the worst programs in government
The Wall Street Journal's editorial board lambasted Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for supporting increasing restrictions and regulations on hydraulic fracturing, also known as "fracking," during CNN's March 6 debate in Flint, MI. The Journal has long claimed that the fracking industry boom functions as an "antipoverty program," ignoring the considerable health risks that the extraction process poses to workers and to the typically low-income communities where many extraction facilities are located.
Since progressive New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio replaced business-friendly billionaire Michael Bloomberg in January 2014, right-wing media have repeatedly claimed that the new mayor's policies have hurt the city's economy. In fact, according to The New York Times, two years into de Blasio's tenure, New York City has witnessed some of its strongest economic numbers in a half-century. Homelessness remains an issue in the city, but The Times reports that the problem is mostly due to a strong real estate market, and the de Blasio administration has invested in tackling the problem.
Bold Media's Carrie Sheffield Teams Up With Paul Ryan To Push False Claim That Cutting Assistance Helps The Poor
During a March 3 interview at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Bold Media's editorial director Carrie Sheffield sat with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to promote their joint effort to spin cuts to federal anti-poverty assistance programs as a tool to help hardworking Americans escape poverty. However, the myth that these programs are harming the poor stems from a long-term right-wing media campaign against social safety programs and disregards experts who explain that these programs are actually helping to alleviate poverty.
Kudlow: "I Believe There's Enough Documentation For Ignorant People Like Myself To Talk About" Family Issues
During a March 4 panel discussion, CNBC senior contributor and Republican economic guru Larry Kudlow, who recently used his profile with America's leading business network to flirt with a Senate bid, noted that he has "virtually no knowledge in [the] field" of issues that affect low-income American families, yet he still used his CPAC platform to shame low-income Americans and lecture single parents.
On March 4, Kudlow appeared on a panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to discuss family issues. Kudlow hyped the misleading claim, frequently promoted by right-wing media, that the growth of single parent households is a primary contributor to poverty in this country. In his opening remarks, Kudlow argued that "welfare is not a substitute for marriage [or] child-rearing," a theme that he returned to throughout the discussion. While Kudlow used his appearance at CPAC to shame single parent households, at the end of the panel, Kudlow bragged that he is "ignorant" of many issues facing families, but feels that he can speak about them because "there's enough documentation for ignorant people" to talk effectively about the supposed cause-effect relationship between poverty and single parents (emphasis added):
LARRY KUDLOW: I want to talk about a subject that is, I guess not my usual discussion on the air but a very important topic. Marriage. Marriage. Economists should pay more attention to and think more about marriage.
The biggest issue of our time at home is the lack of economic growth. The issue is why. There are a lot of reasons. I'm not going to walk through taxes and regulations because that's what I normally do. Much of the reduction of growth is coming from an increase in poverty which is caused by family breakup. That's where it's coming from. Study after study has shown married families make more income, make more wealth, make more wealth, and are happier.
The problem of growth and the problem of poverty are the real issues. Not inequality. Not socialism, government spending. Not high taxing the rich, penalizing American success. The problem is American values, traditional American values, and the decline of the culture of family and marriage and only we, only we, only we can change this or bolster it or teach it. Do you follow me? No bureaucrat is going to teach that, no House member, God bless all of them you have to do it right where you are at home in your lives, there are right decisions and wrong decisions. The rise with the poverty class is so tightly linked to the incidence of divorce and out-of-wedlock marriages and kids.
I don't think politicians or leaders should be afraid to talk about it. So, here I am. I have virtually no knowledge in this field -- except the fact that I'm married to a saint -- and I'm talking about. And the reason I'm talking about it ... I don't know, I believe it's true. And I believe there is enough documentation for ignorant people like myself to talk about it.
Kudlow is not alone among right-wing media figures in his poor-shaming. In fact, blaming poverty on single parents or irresponsible behavior, and downplaying the experiences of hardworking families, is a hallmark of conservative media rhetoric regarding poverty and family issues. In addition to his adoption of right-wing media's poor-shaming rhetoric, Kudlow is also a climate change denier who has launched numerous sexist attacks on Hillary Clinton in the past.
Paul Ryan Gets Credit For Talking About Poverty, Despite Harmful Policies
A February 29 Washington Post Wonkblog post credited House Speaker Paul Ryan for his focus on poverty but failed to acknowledge the negative impact his "brutal" proposals would actually have on the poor. Headlined "Most Republicans care deeply about the poor," the piece said Ryan "has been striving since the last presidential election to make poverty the GOP's next issue," and noted that the speaker "takes the project so seriously that he cited it as one of his reasons for sitting out the 2016 race." Highlighting the sham Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity held in January, The Post claimed that the "tone" adopted by the Republican officials in attendance, which included several presidential candidates, was compassionate and inclusive." From The Washington Post (emphasis added):
Last month, six GOP presidential candidates met in South Carolina to discuss something of a lapsed issue for the Republican Party: helping the poor. The Jan. 9 forum, co-hosted by House Speaker Paul Ryan, played out like a hallucination of the primary season party leaders had hoped for. The tone was compassionate and inclusive. People debated, in depth, real policies. And Donald Trump was nowhere to be seen.
For Paul Ryan, the moment was a minor triumph. Ryan has been striving since the last presidential election to make poverty the GOP's next big issue. As RNC chairman Reince Priebus argued in 2013, the party's long-term success depends on shedding its image as the "party of the rich," of the "narrow-minded" and the "out of touch." A campaign to combat poverty using Republican principles could jumpstart that transformation.
Ryan takes the project so seriously that he cited it as one of his reasons for sitting out the 2016 race. "I wanted to make sure this got away from presidential politics," he told Yahoo News's Jon Ward last March. "I wanted to make sure that this got some distance from being seen as some personal ambitious project for a politician."
The Post did link to another Wonkblog entry that called out Ryan as someone who "misunderstands or glosses over some crucial points about the causes of poverty and what's needed to alleviate it." However, the overall post gives an impression that Ryan is proposing policies that would assist the poor, which isn't the case. Ryan's policies have been called "backward-looking" for attempting to look at poverty in the same way policy makers tackled the issue in the 1990s. These ideas to combat poverty assumed people need incentives to work and failed to consider that, in today's economy, many low-income Americans may not be able to find a stable job that pays well. The Post also neglected to mention that Republican proposals are not serious about addressing lagging economic mobility or growing inequality because "being serious about the problem will require doing the one thing that Republicans hate: government spending."
The media should be wary of Ryan's interest in poverty and look beyond the softened rhetoric of Republican lawmakers. If enacted, his budget proposals would create "more poverty and less opportunity," according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Ryan's 2014 budget proposal would have cut Pell Grants for college students by $125 billion over a decade and even decreased food assistance for those in poverty -- assistance that is only $1.40 per person per meal. In addition to his draconian 2014 budget, Ryan also produced a separate proposal to reform federal anti-poverty programs based on the right-wing media myth that low-income Americans "want to be poor." Economist Robert Reich referred to the "guiding principle" of Ryan's 2012 budget proposal as "reward the rich and cut off the help to anyone who needs it."
The Washington Post has been ensnared by Ryan's poverty PR before, claiming Ryan had new ideas for "an anti-poverty program" that would "rival his budgetary Roadmap for America's future in scope and ambition." Multiple news outlets have fallen for the conservative ploy that Ryan's plans would assist the poor, or have ignored glaring issues with Ryan's stance opposing paid family leave while simultaneously saying he would accept the speaker position only if he gets sufficient time to spend with his family.
Jared Bernstein: Lack Of Access To Reproductive Health Care "Is A Potentially Poverty-Inducing Problem For Low-Income Women"
As the Supreme Court takes up the most important abortion case in over 20 years, economist Jared Bernstein highlighted the growing body of evidence that access to reproductive health services -- including abortion -- is directly connected to economic mobility for women.
In a March 1 Washington Post op-ed, Bernstein wrote about the importance of access to reproductive care for women to attain economic security. Bernstein connected the issue to Supreme Court oral arguments in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, a case on Texas's abortion restrictions, which is slated for March 2. If the decision is upheld, it could severely limit women's access to safe abortions, leaving "nearly 1 million women more than 150 miles from the nearest provider." The decision would also create the potential for states to use similar laws to force clinics to close, putting abortion access out of reach for millions more. Bernstein highlights how this kind of restriction to reproductive health care hurts women economically -- especially low-income women.
Bernstein cited studies on reproductive access that have found positive connections between economic mobility and access to reproductive health services, or conversely, associations between lack of access to such services and poverty:
I have long supported such [reproductive] rights. And I've long recognized the decline in teenage pregnancy, particularly among poor girls, as an important advance for social policy (see Belle Sawhill's work on access to contraception and its positive impacts on child/parent outcomes). But I've failed to connect the dots between access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion, and economic security.
Thankfully, those dots are compellingly connected in this report from last year, "Two Sides of the Same Coin, Integrating Economic and Reproductive Justice." If you're thinking the connection should be obvious, I agree. Having a child is much more than an economic event, but it's also very much that, invoking significant direct costs and opportunity costs (and benefits too, of course). Thus, the inability to control such costs due to lack of access to reproductive health care is a potentially poverty-inducing problem for low-income women and their families (and 69 percent of those who seek abortions are low-income). Conversely, increasing use of the birth control pill, for example, has been found to significantly reduce the gender pay gap.
For low-income women to be able to take control of their economic lives, they must be able to access affordable, comprehensive reproductive health, including contraception and abortion. An anti-poverty agenda that fails to recognize that reality is woefully incomplete.
Bernstein cited an August 2015 report from the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, "Two Sides Of The Same Coin," that found most women who sought an abortion were struggling financially. The report analyzed data from the Turnaway Study, an ongoing longitudinal study conducted by the Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) program at the University of California, San Francisco, on "the effects of unintended pregnancy on women's lives." Bernstein wrote (emphasis added):
I was particularly struck by the findings from a research project in progress called the Turnaway Study, a longitudinal study which follows women who sought but did not get abortions, comparing their outcomes to economically similar women who were able to access abortion services. This type of quasi-experimental study design is a good way at getting closer to causal impacts versus correlations.
A key finding from the Turnaway Study in the economic security space is that relative to women who were able to get the abortion they sought, women denied an abortion had three times the odds of being poor. A year after they were turned away, these women were 10 percent less likely to be working full-time (58 versus 48 percent), and 76 percent of them received public assistance, compared to 44 percent of women who were able to access abortion.
As women in the United States have seen their access to reproductive health care dwindle, media have done little to discuss the economic problems this creates. In the 2013 Texas state legislature battle to pass the law now challenged before the Supreme Court, national news broadcasts mentioned the economic benefits of reproductive care in only 2 percent of segments on reproductive health access. In the months leading up to the March 2 oral arguments, Spanish-language media have also virtually ignored how the law could disproportionately limit reproductive health care access for 2.5 million Texas Latinas by exacerbating already significant economic barriers.
As the Supreme Court prepares to hear one of the most important cases involving abortion in over 20 years, media should focus on how this case will affect women in their everyday lives, including its impact on economic mobility.
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Republican Legislators Around Country Are Pushing Restrictions That Mirror Fox News' "Food Stamp Surfer"
Fox News has spent years pushing the myth that food stamp recipients dine on steak and lobster with their meager food assistance benefits, leading to a string of Republican-sponsored bills attempting to bar recipients from buying certain "luxury food items," the latest of which comes out of the New York state Senate.
The Washington Post reported on February 23 that New York state Sen. Patty Ritchie (R-48) introduced a bill to restrict the use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits -- commonly referred to as "food stamps" -- that closely resembled Republican proposals in Kansas and Missouri last year. The bill seeks to stop the purchase of "luxury food items," such as steak and lobster, with SNAP benefits. Ritchie claimed in a statement that the bill is intended to "protect taxpayers from abuse of a program that's intended to help those who have fallen on hard times." From The Washington Post:
If the bill introduced by Sen. Patty Ritchie passes, families participating in the state's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would be restricted from purchasing "luxury food items" like steak and lobster.
The proposal falls in line with a decades-old conservative fear that people use government assistance to purchase high-end foods. A strikingly similar proposal popped up last year in Missouri ... and another was signed into law by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) in April.
"The goal of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is to help low-income consumers make wise and healthy food choices -- however in New York State, SNAP beneficiaries are able to use their taxpayer-funded EBT cards to purchase things like soda, candy, cake and other types of junk food and luxury items," the statement [from Sen. Ritchie's office] says, referring to electronic benefit transfer cards.
The state of New York already restricts SNAP benefits to unprepared foods -- prohibiting non-essential items including alcohol, cigarettes, pet food, and other non-food items -- but Ritchie's bill would go further, banning foods that are deemed "expensive." The Huffington Post, New York magazine, and others pointed out that the food stamp restriction is really meant to stop recipients from purchasing "steak and lobster" -- a mythical abuse of taxpayer dollars promoted by Fox News.
On August 9, 2013, Fox News aired an hour-long special titled "The Great Food Stamp Binge," highlighting a single Californian named Jason Greenslate, whom the network labeled "the new face of food stamps." During the special, Greenslate detailed his refusal to find gainful employment and discussed his purchases of sushi and lobster using his EBT card from the state. Fox distributed the special, which shamelessly misrepresented millions of struggling Americans who rely on nutritional assistance, to Republican members of Congress during heated budget debates, and the GOP responded by voting for massive cuts to SNAP.
Fox's shameless attempt to characterize SNAP recipients as freeloaders did not stop with the Republican-led budget cuts in 2013. In April 2014, Fox host Neil Cavuto and network legal analyst Andrew Napolitano hyped a single instance of fraud, a couple receiving SNAP benefits while living on a $1.2 million yacht, Napolitano implied the government "willy nilly gives this money away without verifying who's receiving it." In reality, SNAP achieved a historic low for waste and overpayment in 2012. In early 2015, Republican lawmakers in Kansas and Missouri introduced bills seemingly inspired by Fox News restricting how much money food stamp and welfare recipients could spend and what they could purchase, specifically prohibiting "steak, seafood, soda, cookies, chip[s], and energy drinks." In May 2015, during a House Committee on Agriculture hearing, Republican members of Congress pushed for additional SNAP cuts and restrictions by repeatedly referencing the "surfer out in California living on food stamps and eating lobster" as evidence of food stamp abuse.
Fox's narrative that millionaires are receiving benefits and surfer dudes are dining on lobster at taxpayer expense is directed at curbing access to food assistance for low-income Americans, and Republican elected officials continue to oblige. Republican leaders including Paul Ryan are attempting to refurbish their party's reputation on poverty, but they continue promoting policies based on right-wing media myths that actually harm the poor -- a fact not lost on the American public.
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A February 18 editorial by the Las Vegas Review-Journal encouraged Nevada and other states to replicate Maine's food assistance program work requirements. But reports find the requirements could hurt many of the state's most vulnerable people.