Fox News California minimum wage
Molly Buter / Media Matters

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Fox fearmongers about California's minimum wage increase

California is implementing a $20 hourly wage for fast food workers. Fox’s reactions have ranged from concern trolling to cruelty.

Fox News spent several days hyping the purported negative side effects of California's plan to implement a targeted $20 minimum wage for fast food chains operating in the state. Fox's almost exclusively negative portrayal of the plan to lift the wages of California’s fast food employees is a continuation of the network’s yearslong crusade against raising the minimum wage.

  • On April 1, California implemented a $20 hourly minimum wage for “fast food restaurant employees” in the state, which affects employees working at qualifying “limited-service” restaurants. California's statewide minimum wage is $16 per hour, though many municipalities have already implemented even higher minimum wages.

    The law itself, Assembly Bill 1228 — which also establishes a Fast Food Council to oversee the industrial sector going forward — was the result of a legislative compromise last year between the Service Employees International Union and representatives of the fast food and restaurant industries. A representative from the National Restaurant Association said the agreement “protects local restaurant owners” and “provides a more predictable and stable future for restaurants.” California Gov. Gavin Newsom expects the law to increase wages for approximately 500,000 fast food workers.

    A Roosevelt Institute analysis of California’s new fast food minimum wage argued that “operating profit margins” in the industry “provide sufficient room to absorb higher wage costs.” The analysis also argued that the fast food industry does not need to raise prices or reduce employment to sustain increased wages: “Outsized corporate profit margins driven by increased markups throughout the industry provide evidence that now, more than ever, fast-food employers can absorb higher wage costs without raising prices or reducing employment.”

    Indeed, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that fast food prices nationwide have increased almost 50% faster than overall inflation over the past 15 years, indicating that the industry has considerable margin to absorb an uptick in labor costs. The Roosevelt Institute’s conclusion that the fast food sector can sustain increased minimum wages with negligible effects on prices or employment is in line with other research into increased minimum wages. But those facts have not stopped large restaurant chains from fear mongering about the supposed negative economic impacts of raising worker’s wages, nor have they dissuaded the anti-minimum wage crusaders at Fox News and Fox Business from hyping California’s new targeted wage increase as a near-existential threat to businesses across the state.

  • Fox figures take aim at minimum wage increase, claiming it dampens “ambition” and promotes “mediocrity” among low-wage workers

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  • Fox News and Fox Business marked the April 1 implementation of California’s new targeted fast food industry minimum wage by firing off a fusillade of attacks at the law and its proponents, particularly Gov. Gavin Newsom. Fox’s attacks on the new wage standard  ranged from the ridiculous — claiming that Newsom, a former restaurateur, had no experience with the industry he sought to regulate — to the ruthless — that higher minimum wages would “promote mediocrity” among workers.  Those arguments echoed debunked myths the network has previously peddled in its attacks on the minimum wage:

    • Fox News host Brian Kilmeade falsely claimed that Newsom, who ran a restaurant and hotel business, “clearly never worked in a restaurant or the food industry, or he wouldn’t even think about doing this.” Fox correspondent Carley Shimkus previewed the wage increase by citing restaurant owner worries of “price hikes and even job cuts.” In 1992, Newsom founded PlumpJack Group, a venture that began  with a San Francisco wine store and expanded its portfolio to include bars, restaurants, hotels, and wineries. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 4/1/24; The Associated Press, 12/20/18]

    • Fox Business correspondent Cheryl Casone warned that restaurant owners would  likely foist “price hikes” and “smaller serving sizes" on customers to “pay for the new wage.” Casone concluded the segment with a warning from a fast food trade association that represents franchise owners, an association that previously supported the minimum wage increase, that “during a slowing economy, there's going to be a significant impact.” Despite those concerns, the most recently-available data has shown economic growth and job creation in the restaurant industry statewide. [Fox Business, Mornings with Maria Bartiromo, 4/1/24; Bureau of Economic Analysis, 3/29/24; Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Economic Data, accessed 4/1/24]

    • Fox “straight news” program America’s Newsroom brought on right-wing comedian Jimmy Failla to discuss the wage increase. After Fox correspondent William La Jeunesse reported dire warnings of the price increases and job losses that would stem from the wage increase, host Dana Perino pivoted to Failla, who hosts Fox Across America, to bemoan the law. Failla suggested that the law would result in layoffs, higher prices for “the little guy who now has to buy fast food at exorbitant price,”  and encourage franchise owners to install more self-service kiosks in lieu of workers. Failla closed the segment by reviving the myth that “fast food jobs are aspirational jobs” and  speculated that he “might not have had the ambition” to pursue a career in comedy if he had been paid better as a cab driver. [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 4/1/24; Media Matters, 6/24/16; YouTube, 4/1/24]

    • Fox Business host Charles Payne worried the minimum wage increase would “promote mediocrity” in America. In response to Fox Business correspondent Lauren Simonetti warning viewers that the “hidden cost” of increased wages would be layoffs and automation, Payne interrupted saying “another hidden cost, I hate to interrupt, is encouraging people not to be great. You’re saying, ‘Hey, drop out of high school and you’re still going to make good money.’” He continued: “The message to kids that, ‘You know what, you’re already getting a B.S. education to begin with, don’t worry about it. Either the state will take care of you with free housing and food stamps, or we’ll make sure that greedy corporate America pays you more money than you should be earning.’ So we’re going to promote mediocrity, in a nation that was built on the exact opposite.” [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 4/1/24]

    • Fox News contributor Leo Terrell claimed the “long-run plan” for the wage increase is to funnel union money into the Democratic Party. “This is what’s going to happen, these employees at these restaurants are going to be unionized. Guess what’s going to happen, they’re going to contribute money to the union,” Terrell said. “Guess who’s going to get the money? The Democrats. This is the long-run plan of trying to put more money in the Democratic Party's pocket.” [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 4/1/24]

    • Fox Business hosted Neil Hershman, the owner of a self-service frozen yogurt chain, who warned that “a lot of this is going to be passed on to the consumers.” “And I think you just saw with McDonald’s … a lot of consumers said we don't want more increases and it's like one increase after the next after the next, and when is it going to stop?” [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 3/29/24]

    • Fox Business host Dagen McDowell claimed that “these policies are created by politicians and bureaucrats” who seemingly “never actually talk to the business owners and the operators and the families that run these businesses.” The new law was the product of compromise between labor unions and business associations. And, as noted above, Newsom founded a hospitality business that owns numerous bars and restaurants.  [Fox Business, The Bottom Line, 3/29/24; Los Angeles Times, 9/11/23]

    • Fox Business hosted fast food executive Andy Wiederhorn to lament the demise of his industry thanks to increased wages. Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo interviewed Wiederhorn, the CEO of FAT Brands, to bash the minimum wage increase. At first, Wiederhorn admitted that the wage increase isn't “as dramatic as you might think” but fearmongered anyway about how higher wages might “creep around the country as other states follow.”  [Fox Business, Maria Bartiromo’s Wall Street, 3/29/24]

    • Fox “straight news” program America’s Newsroom brought on a restaurant owner who attacked Newsom over minimum wage increase: “This man is destroying California.” Restaurant owner Angela Marsden predicted “massive layoffs” in the hospitality industry and called Newsom “the biggest trickster of all time.” Later in the segment, Marsden claimed that the wage increases was a ploy by Newsom and big corporations to “usher in A.I” and “justify having all-A.I. fast food.” Rather than asking how “all-A.I.” food preparation and service might work, Fox anchor Dana Perino responded, “Yeah, you can see, you can imagine that’s where things are going.” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 3/29/24]

    • Fox News senior correspondent Alicia Acuna blamed the failure of her husband’s Denver, Colorado, restaurant in part on the city’s minimum wage —  “The cost of labor was choking us so badly,” she said. “And to make up for it, our serving sizes shrank, we had to take premium items off the menu, we were trying to cut corners at every step, and it just became impossible,” Acuna added. [Fox News, The Big Weekend Show, 3/31/24]

  • Fox News has a long history of propagating anti-minimum wage hysteria and attacking workers

  • Fox News and its sister channel Fox Business have a long track record of leading the right-wing media attack on city, state, and federal initiatives aimed at increasing the minimum wage. Media Matters has cataloged those attacks for more than a decade and presented extensive evidence demonstrating that the anti-minimum wage propaganda that echoes through right-wing media is often false or misleading. Early in President Joe Biden’s first year in office, Fox renewed its anti-minimum wage crusade when he sought to gradually increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. The federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour has not been raised since July 2009.

    Below are just a few examples of Fox’s overt bias on this issue:

    • Fox Business host Stuart Varney falsely claimed the minimum wage was really intended for workers “fresh out of high school.” During an interview with Scott Page, the CEO of the Lifeline Program that provided telecommunications assistance to low-income families, Varney was asked how a single parent could expect to live on a minimum wage of just $9 per hour. Varney responded that “you don’t” expect parents to live on the minimum wage and that “it’s for people fresh out of high school.” [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 2/13/13]

    • On Fox, discredited trickle-down economist Art Laffer once described the minimum wage as the “Black teenage unemployment act.” During an anti-minimum wage segment featuring Laffer, the so-called father of trickle down economics, and conservative economist Michael Strain, Laffer proclaimed “the minimum wage makes no sense whatsoever,” adding, “it’s just the Black teenage unemployment act.” He actually advocated “getting rid of” the minimum wage for teenagers and later restated, “I don't think there should be a federal minimum wage.” Strain then chimed in that in addition to lowering the minimum wage for teenagers, the government should also reduce the minimum wage for the “long-term unemployed.” That would mean paying workers who are struggling to find gainful employment even less than their counterparts in the workforce. [Fox News, Happening Now, 1/8/14]

    • When McDonald’s reported a drop in quarterly profits, Fox blamed those advocating for a minimum wage increase. Despite offering no evidence to support their claim, Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo and Fox & Friends co-hosts Ainsley Earhardt, Steve Doocy, and Brian Kilmeade all agreed that calls for increasing the minimum wage were responsible for a 30% drop in McDonald's profits. In reality, McDonald’s then-CEO Don Thompson blamed “corporate image problems” and consumers’ desire for healthier options for the company's slagging profits. [Media Matters, 10/22/14]

    • Fox guest and restaurant chain CEO Andy Puzder argued that workers might forgo promotions or pay increases at work because “they don't want to lose the free stuff from the government.” Puzder was later nominated to lead the Department of Labor in the Trump administration, but withdrew from consideration after it was revealed he had hired an undocumented immigrant as a housekeeper and failed to pay taxes on her services until his nomination five years later. [Fox News, 6/24/15; CBS News, 2/15/17]

    • Fox peddled paranoia that low-wage employees would refuse to work in order to qualify for cash assistance from the government. Fox News ran several reports on the so-called “unintended consequences” of Seattle’s (and San Francisco’s) municipal minimum wage increase. The reports included the unsubstantiated claim that increased pay would encourage workers to work less in order to stay below the poverty line and continue receiving government benefits. [Media Matters, 7/23/15]

    • Fox previously cherry-picked data to falsely claim Seattle’s implementation of a minimum wage increase had killed restaurant jobs across the region. Fox News hyped a report from the conservative American Enterprise Institute that blamed a marginal decline in restaurant employment in the entire Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan area on the city of Seattle's recently-increased minimum wage. The think tank and right-wing media outlet both overstated the significance of a roughly 1% change in restaurant employment and focused on apparent job losses in one month while ignoring job gains the following month. Two weeks later, local employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing a sharp uptick in restaurant employment in the area completely disproved Fox’s claim about the minimum wage resulting in job losses. [Media Matters, 8/11/15, 8/25/15]

    • Fox contributor Andrew Napolitano likened increasing the minimum wage to buying votes and claimed that some workers “are not worth” $15 or more. In response to California and New York passing laws to increase their statewide minimum wages, Napolitano suggested the wage increases were a subversive attempt to “bribe the poor for votes” and would result in dramatic price increases and job losses. He proclaimed that raising the minimum wage would result in price increases that put necessities beyond the reach of low-wage workers, destroy jobs, and expand reliance on public assistance and voiced his supposed concern that “poor people will lose their jobs because they simply are not worth” $15 an hour. [Media Matters, 4/8/16]

    • Fox Business let restaurant executives set the agenda for anti-minimum wage coverage. Fox Business dedicated multiple segments to criticizing low-wage workers taking part in living wage demonstrations around the country. The segments almost exclusively featured minimum wage opponents, and continued Fox’s heavy reliance on restaurant executives who peddled misinformation about the supposed negative consequences of paying employees minimum wages of $15 per hour. [Media Matters, 4/14/16]

    • Fox hosts claimed that earning the minimum wage was a “positive incitement to work hard” and a force to “destroy jobs” that “raises prices.” During a discussion about President Biden's proposal to increase the federal minimum wage, Gutfeld leaned on his own experience earning a low wage, “I made $3.35 an hour and you couldn’t wait to get up higher, it was actually incitement, really positive incitement to work hard,” he claimed. For her part, The Five co-host Dagen McDowell voiced her concern that increased wages would raise prices and thereby reduce disposable income for workers. “Not only does it destroy jobs, 1.4 million jobs, but to Greg's point, it actually raises prices for — in — in food businesses and in service businesses,” McDowell said. “And so, if you've got inflation, the people who still have jobs are paying higher costs, less of their money in their pocket for fun things.” [Fox News, The Five, 2/11/21]