Broadcast News Doesn't Have Time For Full Employment

In 2013, broadcast evening news programs have largely ignored the need for the economy to return to full employment, instead placing overwhelming focus on debt and deficit reduction.

What Is Full Employment?

Bernstein And Baker: Full Employment Is When “All Workers Who Seek A Job Have One.” In their book Getting Back To Full Employment: A Better Bargain For Working People, economists Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research argue that so-called “full employment” should be a primary goal for fiscal and monetary policymakers if the United States is to fully realize an economic recovery. The authors outline “tremendous benefits for rising living standards, poverty reduction, the federal budget, and equitable economic growth” associated with an economy at full employment. According to the authors:

Full employment can be defined as the level of employment at which additional demand in the economy will not create more employment. All workers who seek a job have one, they are working for as many hours as they want to or can, and they are receiving a wage that is broadly consistent with their productivity. The only people in the labor market not working are the ones who do not have the skill or ability to work (the structurally unemployed) and those who are between jobs (the frictionally unemployed). [Center for Economic and Policy Research, Getting Back To Full Employment: A Better Bargain For Working People, 2013]

Broadcast Evening News Ignores Need For Full Employment

Only 1 Segment Since Beginning Of 2013 Addressed Full Employment. Since the beginning of 2013, evening news programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC have largely ignored the need for full employment. Only one segment from the October 9 edition of CBS' Evening News mentioned the need for full employment, quoting Federal Reserve Chair nominee Janet Yellen's call for “maximum employment.” ABC and NBC provided no mentions of full employment.

Broadcast News Far More Likely To Mention Calls For Deficit And Debt Reduction. Since the beginning of 2013, evening news programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC were far more likely to mention the supposed need for deficit and debt reduction, providing a total of 51 segments on the topic.

But Full Employment Is An Achievable Policy Goal...

Jared Bernstein And Dean Baker: Unemployment Rate Could Lower To 4 Percent. In a co-authored post for The New York Times' Economix blog, economists Jared Bernstein and Dean Baker argued that appropriate fiscal and monetary policy decisions could cut the current unemployment rate nearly in half to 4.0 percent. This rate would reflect the average unemployment rate for the year 2000, which the authors consider “full employment”:

Most economists place the rate in the range of 5 to 5.5 percent, though some estimates go as high as 6 percent. The Congressional Budget Office's latest projections have it at 5.5 percent.

We think we can do better. Our work suggests that 4 percent -- the average unemployment rate for 2000, the last time we were at full employment -- is a reasonable target, one worth shooting for. [The New York Times, Economix, 11/20/13]

Robert Pollin: Economy Was Near Full Employment At End Of 1990s. In a July 2012 interview with The Nation, economist Robert Pollin discussed the means by which the United States economy could return to the full employment levels of the late 1990s. Like Bernstein and Baker, Pollin sees 4.0 percent unemployment or lower as a reasonable target:

POLLIN: Even as recently as the late 1990s, so we're not talking about ancient history, the official unemployment rate fell below, to about 3.9 percent, due to the financial bubble then. It did, and wages actually started to rise rapidly, especially for people at the low end of the labor market. [The Nation, 7/30/12]

Robert Reich: The United States Has Done This Before. In a September 2013 interview with Moyers & Company, economist and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich discussed his recent documentary Inequality for All. In noting the many challenges facing the American economy today, Reich highlighted examples from the nation's past that offer a model for equitable growth, reduced economic insecurity, and once again approaching full employment. [Moyers & Company, 9/20/13]

...And Measures To Get Back To Full Employment Are Greatly Needed

Washington Post: At Current Rate, Economy Still Decade Away From Pre-Recession Employment Levels. Citing data from The Hamilton Project, Washington Post columnist Brad Plumer calculated last February that the contemporary rate of job creation would not get the economy back to a pre-recession job market until 2022:

Right now, there are 12.3 million unemployed Americans. When the economy was running at full blast at the end of 2007, there were just 7.7 million unemployed -- in transition or switching between jobs, say. But on top of that, the population also keeps growing, currently adding about 88,000 new people to the labor force each month.

Put all that together, and it will take about 9 years to close the “jobs gap” -- to get back to the ratio of payrolls to working-age population that prevailed back in December 2007. [The Washington Post, 2/1/13]

Heather Boushey: Getting Back to Full Employment “Urgent And Pressing Issue.” In a July 2013 op-ed for MarketWatch, economist Heather Boushey of the Center for American Progress argued that current labor market trends are not enough to return the economy to full employment on their own. Recognizing that full employment is many years away, Boushey argues that policies must be directed to boost job creation in the short term:

[W]ith nearly 12 million people still out of work, this is no time to sit on our hands and pretend that the job of pushing the economy back to full employment is not still an urgent and pressing issue. [MarketWatch, 7/5/13]

L. Randall Wray: No Demand More Urgent Than Putting Americans Back To Work. In a June 2011 column written for The Nation, economist L. Randall Wray outlined the urgent need to create jobs in the American economy. Wray sought a return to progressive economic policy agendas that characterized a full employment economy in the United States decades ago:

In recent decades full employment has been wrongly dismissed as not only impossible but economically counterproductive.


The benefits of full employment include production of goods, services and income; on-the-job training and skill development; poverty alleviation; community building and social networking; social, political and economic stability; and social multipliers (positive feedbacks and reinforcing dynamics that create a virtuous cycle of socioeconomic benefits). [The Nation, 6/8/11]


Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts of evening news programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC from January 1 to December 1. We identified and reviewed all segments that included the following keywords: full employment or employ! or job! or unemploy! or debt or deficit.

The following programs were included in the data: World News with Diane Sawyer, Evening News (CBS), and Nightly News with Brian Williams.

For shows that aired re-runs, only the first airing was included in data retrieval. We did not include teases to upcoming segments.

We defined segments that mention the need for full employment as those where either the host or guest mentions achieving full employment as a pressing need.

We defined segments that call for deficit reduction as a priority as those where either the host or guest mentions deficit and debt reduction as pressing needs.