Millions of Americans suddenly found their financial well-being in peril this week as federal pandemic unemployment benefits ended. But Fox Business praised this development, and used misleading information to say the move would increase employment.
Over 7.5 million people are estimated to have now lost benefits completely, and millions more have seen a $300 reduction in their weekly unemployment benefits. The latest round of benefits was instituted in March after President Joe Biden faced pressure to extend them, but they are now ending after his administration argued there are enough jobs available to the unemployed. Some think this cutoff is premature and likely to trigger hunger and other hardships. Economist Elizabeth Ananat warned that “in the absence of some kind of solution, this cliff comes and that number is going to go back up,” predicting that there is “a significant group of people who are going to be in a lot worse shape.”
Pandemic unemployment benefits are often cited as a reason for high unemployment rates, but the data show a murkier picture. States that cut unemployment benefits and states that kept them saw similar job growth. The Wall Street Journal explains, “Economists who have conducted their own analyses of the government data say the rates of job growth in states that ended and states that maintained the benefits are, from a statistical perspective, about the same.”
While there has been improvement in employment numbers, it has been slowed by a variety of factors such as lack of child care, spread of the delta variant, and a shift in attitude toward work. COVID-19 still impacts many service sector jobs, and the danger posed by the virus means many workers don’t feel comfortable taking these positions. While it is true that there are more jobs open than unemployed people, many of these openings are in different fields than the ones unemployed people worked in prior to the pandemic. There is a geographic mismatch as well; The Wall Street Journal notes, “Job openings are elevated in the South and Midwest, where unemployment rates are low, according to Labor Department data. In the West and East, unemployment is high and job openings depressed. Shortages, in other words, are specific to certain parts of the country.”
Despite the occasional recognition of these facts, Fox Business personalities and guests have suggested job numbers will improve with the benefits cutoff. The network’s focus on cutting benefits and social programs ignores the vital role these benefits have played in the lives of individuals who have received them and in the economy as a whole. Through misrepresentation of the job market and blaming unemployed people, Fox Business has chosen an economic agenda over factual reporting. Here are a few examples of such coverage:
- On Wednesday, Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo claimed, “Based on July's consumer price index report, the industry is also facing a worker shortage, a result of government assistance throughout this pandemic.” She then interviewed a restaurant owner who blamed the benefits for his struggling business.
- Former Trump White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett appeared on the September 7 edition of The Evening Edit and claimed, despite the evidence: “What's going to happen is that you're going to see two different worlds, a blue world and a red world. In red America, the economy is going to be booming and unemployment rate is going to head back to where it was before COVID started, and in blue America they’re going to be paying people not to work and, you know, taxing the rest of us Americans all over the country to finance failed states.”
- Fox Business host Charles Payne said on Making Money: “The media playing this up, though, as a cold-hearted moment for this country, even though there are more than 10 million job openings, the greatest ever. Now, there are certainly a lot of factors that go into getting folks back to work. So is this really a mean-spirited move or just tough love?”
- Economist and Varney & Co. guest Brian Brenberg celebrated the ending of unemployment benefits: “I don’t think you need to be an economist to answer this question. You got 10 million open jobs and you’ve been paying people not to work. Either they’re going to get a job or, I don’t know, you’re not going to put food on the table.” Host Stuart Varney admitted there are many factors that are contributing to unemployment before he falsely claimed that “those states which have abolished [the emergency payment] already are doing better than those states which still pay it.”
- Fox Business host Larry Kudlow suggested on September 8 that all forms of welfare keep people out of work: “Look, all of the work disincentives will be expanded and made permanent. So this week the unemployment plus-up ends. But you still have nutrition food stamps, the child tax credit, child care spending, dependent care spending. In other words, rental assistance for evictions. Why go to work? Why do it? If the government's going to do it for you, and the Democrats want to make it permanent.”
- Kudlow appeared on Making Money and claimed: “There’s no workfare tied to these safety nets, so-called safety net programs. And I think that's a problem. If the government wants to provide temporary emergency assistance, I'm fine with that, but what you're getting now is permanent assistance with no link to working and I still think that is holding the labor market back.”