REPORT: Broadcast Evening News Ignores Public Cost Of Low Minimum Wage

Despite mounting evidence that low minimum wages put pressure on government finances through the need for expanded safety net programs, over the past year, evening news programs on four major broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS -- have been largely silent about the public cost of low wages.

Fair Minimum Wage Act Would Increase The Federal Minimum Wage To $10.10

NELP: Fair Minimum Wage Act Of 2013 Would Increase Minimum Wage, Keep Pace With Inflation. Legislation introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Representative George Miller (D-CA) -- The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 -- would increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour incrementally by 2016. According to the National Employment Law Project (NELP) the bill would also “index” the minimum wage to keep up with inflation and cost of living while increasing the minimum wage for tipped workers, which has remained $2.13 per hour for two decades, to 70 percent of the federal minimum wage. [National Employment Law Project, March 2013]

Current Minimum Wage Costs American Taxpayers Billions

CAP: $10.10 Minimum Wage Would Cut Food Stamp Participation By $4.6 Billion Annually. According to research by economists Rachel West and Michael Reich, conducted for the Center for American Progress (CAP) and the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE), adopting a $10.10 minimum wage in accordance with the Harkin-Miller proposal would significantly reduce reliance on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly “food stamps”):

Our findings indicate that increased earnings from minimum wage changes do reduce SNAP enrollments and expenditures. We estimate that the Harkin-Miller bill would save taxpayers nearly $4.6 billion per year, equivalent to 6.1 percent of SNAP expenditures in 2012, the last year for which data are available. Over a 10-year period, the estimated savings amount to nearly $46 billion. [Center for American Progress, March 2014]

UC Berkeley Labor Center: Low Wages In Fast Food Cost Taxpayers Nearly $7 Billion Annually. According to a report released by the University of California, Berkeley Labor Center, fast food workers -- whose median wages are substantially below the $10.10 minimum wage proposal -- cost taxpayers roughly $7 billion annually in public assistance. The bulk of public assistance is caused by low wages forcing reliance on Medicaid, the Childen's Health Insurance Program, SNAP benefits, and the Earned Income Tax Credit. [University of California, Berkeley Labor Center, 10/15/13]

CBO: $10.10 Minimum Wage Would Lift 900,000 Out Of Poverty. According to a February 2014 report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that reviewed proposals to increase the federal minimum wage to $9 and $10.10 per hour, respectively, the $10.10 option would reduce “the number of people below the poverty threshold” by 900,000 while positively impacting the wages of 16.5 million working Americans. [Congressional Budget Office, February 2014]

Broadcast Evening News Mostly Ignore Impact Of Higher Minimum Wage In Reducing Reliance On Anti-Poverty Programs

Only Eight Segments In Past Year Focused On Tax Savings, Budget Impact Of Higher Minimum Wage. A Media Matters review of broadcast evening news programs on four major networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS -- from March 1, 2013, through March 10, 2014, revealed only eight mentions of the reliance of minimum wage workers on federal, state, and local anti-poverty programs such as food assistance and welfare programs. The majority of mentions were attributable to PBS, which provided six of the eight total mentions.


Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of evening network broadcast news on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS from March 1, 2013 through March 10, 2014. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: minimum wage

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

Media Matters included all segments containing a mention or discussion of minimum wage proposals at the federal, state, or local level and counted any mention of the minimum wage causing workers to rely on government programs, such as SNAP, TANF, housing vouchers, or any other assistance targeted at low-income earners.