Broadcast evening news programs have remained silent on unemployment benefits since a measure to restore emergency compensation failed to pass the Senate. However, for many Americans, the prospect of losing benefits has only just begun.
At the end of 2013, emergency benefits for the long-term unemployed -- a program that has been in place since the financial crisis took hold -- expired. In the first weeks of 2014, Congress attempted to pass an extension, but the measure eventually fell to a Republican filibuster in the Senate on January 14.
Since the failed bid to extend unemployment benefits, nightly broadcast news programs have largely ignored the issue. Only one evening news segment on ABC, CBS, and NBC devoted time to discussing the now-expired benefits. That came in the form of NBC Nightly News host Brian Williams explaining that the measure to extend benefits failed in the Senate on January 14. Since then, there has been no discussion on any of the three networks.*
And as the Huffington Post's Sam Stein noted, broadcast Sunday show programs on January 19 provided no airtime to discussing the benefits except for a passing mention by NBC's Peter Alexander on Meet the Press.
While broadcast news may see this issue as complete, the negative effects of the benefits expiration will continue for an increasing number of Americans.
In a January 21 piece in The New York Times, reporter Annie Lowrey outlined the very real consequences of letting benefits expire, focusing on the story of Alnetta McKnight, an unemployed security guard. McKnight lost her benefits after 20 weeks due to a recently passed law in North Carolina, and is finding it hard to make ends meet or find a job. According to Lowrey, McKnight's experience is bound to increase across the country because, since the expiration of the emergency unemployment compensation program, "the maximum period of unemployment payments dropped to 26 weeks in most states, down from as much as 73 weeks."
Indeed, the situation will get worse for a number of Americans unless Congress acts to reinstate long-term unemployment insurance benefits. When the long-term unemployment benefits program expired, 1.3 million unemployed people immediately lost benefits. As more of the unemployed reach the maximum time allowed to collect benefits, they will find themselves in similar circumstances. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a total of 4.9 million people will be without any unemployment benefits by the end of the year if emergency measures are not reinstated.
More Americans will face the same situation as Alnetta McNight until the program is restored. Unfortunately for the millions who are currently unemployed, broadcast media have given up the public debate.
*Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts of evening news broadcasts on ABC, CBS, and NBC from January 14 to January 21 using the following search terms: unemploy! or employ! or job! or insur! or benefi!. The "!" operator in Nexis allows for all possible suffixes to the word it follows (for example, unemploy! returns unemployed, unemployment, etc.). When transcripts were missing or incomplete, we reviewed video.
Image via Bytemarks using a Creative Commons License
Conservative media figures have sharply criticized the recent push by Democratic politicians to alleviate poverty and reduce economic inequality. However, most of this criticism is grounded in a number of myths about the causes, effects, and importance of growing economic inequality in the United States.
In the second half of 2013, weekday broadcast and cable evening news discussed Social Security in a largely negative light by repeatedly insisting that the program is insolvent, must be cut, or poses a risk to long-term fiscal security.
Weekday broadcast and cable evening news continue to place undue focus on government spending cuts and deficit reduction, pushing a narrative that is out of touch with economic reality.
Media Matters research revealed that throughout the fourth quarter of 2013, weekday broadcast and cable nightly news programs were more likely to advocate for deficit reduction than economic growth and job creation. Out of a total 890 segments on the economy, 250 saw the host or guest mention deficit reduction as an economic priority, while only 204 segments mentioned the need for economic growth and job creation.
Of course, Fox News led the charge in calling for deficit reduction, echoing trends seen in previous quarters.
Media's focus on deficit reduction was a constant theme throughout 2013, a theme increasingly out of touch with economic realities.
While broadcast and cable evening news programs were clamoring about the need for deficit reduction, in fiscal year 2013, the Treasury posted the smallest budget deficit since 2008. The same news programs that advocated for deficit reduction, however, were unlikely to mention this fact -- only 15 total segments over the fourth quarter noted that deficits are in decline.
Meanwhile, economic growth and job creation, while taking a backseat in media coverage, still remain a persistent problem in the U.S. economy. Many economists have repeatedly argued that sluggish economic growth and weak job creation are directly tied to an undue policy focus on deficit reduction. But with the recent government shutdown and budget negotiations taking place, weekday broadcast and cable evening news coverage consistently turned the debate back to deficit and debt reduction and away from more pressing issues like unemployment.
Maybe this is why only six percent of Americans know the deficit is shrinking.
Weekday broadcast and cable evening news covered a variety of economic topics including deficit reduction, economic growth, and effects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) throughout the fourth quarter of 2013. A Media Matters analysis shows that many of these segments lacked proper context or input from economists, with Fox News continuing to advance the erroneous notion that the ACA is the purported cause behind poor job growth.
Fox News contributors Rich Lowry and Charles Payne erroneously asserted that income inequality cannot be mitigated, ignoring the causes of rising inequality and a multitude of policies proposed by economists.
On the January 3 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, co-host Bill Hemmer hosted Lowry and Payne to discuss President Obama and recently inaugurated Mayor of New York Bill de Blasio's focus on reducing income inequality. Reacting to comments from Obama and de Blasio regarding inequality, Lowry claimed that while it may be a problem, it simply cannot be stopped (emphasis added):
LOWRY: The broader point, Bill, and this is something the president neglects when he talks about this, inequality is a trend across the decades, across all presidencies, across every developed advanced economy, it has to do with deep trends in our world - globalization, automation -- so there's no way it's going to be stopped. And when President Obama or Bill de Blasio says somehow they're going to end social and economic inequality, it's a pipe dream and they can only do damage by trying to do it.
Payne responded to Lowry's comments, saying, "I don't disagree" before Lowry later claimed that "if you honor just certain basic norms -- if you graduate from high school, if you get a full-time job, if you get married before you have kids -- the chances of you being poor are basically nil."
Lowry and Payne's assertion that income inequality is somehow a natural result of economic activity that cannot be mitigated through policy, however, is at odds with economists' opinions.
Economist and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has long argued that reducing income inequality is one of the United States' greatest current policy challenges, and has proposed a number of solutions, such as the institution of living wages, larger earned income tax credits, better access to education, and increased union rights. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, while agreeing that inequality is a wide trend, argues that "the trend [is] not universal, or inevitable." Stiglitz traces the recent surge in inequality to a number of government policies:
American inequality began its upswing 30 years ago, along with tax decreases for the rich and the easing of regulations on the financial sector. That's no coincidence. It has worsened as we have under-invested in our infrastructure, education and health care systems, and social safety nets. Rising inequality reinforces itself by corroding our political system and our democratic governance.
Indeed, the Economic Policy Institute recently launched an educational project with Reich demonstrating that because inequality is the result of policy, it can be mitigated through policy changes.
Economists also discount Lowry and Payne's claim that any attempt to reduce inequality will harm economic growth. Multiple economists have argued that reducing inequality is a means to increase economic growth through enhancing the skills and purchasing power of a greater number of people.
Following Texas State Senator Wendy Davis' June 25, 2013, filibuster of extreme restrictions on reproductive health clinics in Texas, national evening broadcast and cable news programs have provided extensive coverage of issues pertaining to women's reproductive rights. The vast majority of segments, however, failed to identify or discuss the key economic benefits of access to reproductive health care, including its role in reducing economic insecurity.
A new study reveals how successful government safety net programs are at keeping people out of poverty, delivering an additional blow to the Fox News myth that government assistance cannot improve the lives of low-income individuals.
According to The Washington Post, researchers Christopher Wimer and Liana Fox of the Columbia Population Research Center found that from 1967 to 2012, the safety net reduced the poverty rate from 26 to 16 percent.
Official poverty measures did not take government programs used by low-income Americans into account before 2010, often giving the appearance that poverty rates have remained unchanged over the past 50 years. Wimer and Fox adjusted poverty rates going back to 1967 to take into account additional costs and the effect of safety net programs, revealing the 10-point drop in poverty. Previous research by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities suggested that government programs reduce the official poverty rate, but Wimer and Fox found that the safety net has an even greater effect in reducing poverty.
The findings of the study reveal how crucial government anti-poverty programs are, undercutting the right-wing media myth rampant on Fox News that government programs cannot help low-income people.
Fox Business contributor Charles Payne made this point as recently as September, arguing that government assistance has been a waste because poverty numbers have not decreased since the "Great Society" in the 1960s, which implemented many anti-poverty measures.
In a discussion on The O'Reilly Factor, Fox Business' John Stossel recently railed against anti-poverty programs, claiming that government makes poverty "worse with these government programs" and that "we should get rid of most of government and allow poor people to become rich."
Indeed, the belief that government assistance cannot help low-income individuals is somewhat of a theme in the right-wing media, with figures continually questioning the efficacy of safety net programs.
The study also found that absent government safety net programs, 29 percent of Americans would be in poverty today -- an increase since 1967. These findings show that while the economy has grown tremendously in the past few decades, the gains have not reached those at the bottom.
The study reinforces previous research about the nature of growing income inequality in America. However, it is unlikely that voices in right-wing media will take notice of the findings as a problem, especially considering previous calls to reduce inequality have been met with staunch opposition and accusations of implementing a communist agenda.
While Fox News may continue to dismiss government assistance as wasteful, it doesn't change the fact that it plays a critical role in reducing poverty and inequality.
Fox News dismissed the economic benefits of long-term unemployment insurance, erroneously characterizing the program as a "crutch" holding back economic growth.
On December 6, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its unemployment report for the month of November. The national unemployment rate edged down from 7.3 to 7 percent, while the economy added a total of 203,000 jobs month-to-month, beating economists' expectations.
On the December 6 edition of Fox News' Your World, host Neil Cavuto and Fox Business contributor Charles Payne used the better than expected report to cast doubt on Rep. Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) recent call to extend long-term unemployment benefits set to expire at the end of the year. Cavuto claimed that Pelosi was misguided for "talking up the need for extending jobless benefits and all of that in the face of more jobs" before Payne launched an all-out attack on social safety net programs:
PAYNE: Yeah, you know, it's really interesting as people, as we get more and more people coming off these jobless benefits, what are they doing? They're going back into the job market. What's happening? More jobs are being created. It's the exact opposite of what they're preaching in Washington which is the defeatist attitude. They don't believe in the American economic system. You know, it doesn't need all these crutches, it doesn't need all these aids. Let people come back into the job market, that's a sign of confidence; confidence is what this is all about. That's what will spark a real recovery. Unlimited unemployment benefits, 50 million people on food stamps, that's nutty stuff, you can do the math, you can talk about multiplier effects all you want, that's not what America was built on. This stock market wants people to get off these unemployment benefits after three years and look for a job, because they will eventually find a job and that's better for all of us.
Cavuto and Payne's claim that the strong jobs report indicates that unemployment insurance doesn't have to be extended -- in addition to claiming that allowing the program to expire would help the economy -- is at odds with reality.
Despite recent months of relatively strong job growth, the long-term unemployed -- the same people who are facing benefit cuts when the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program expires later this month -- have seen little gain. According to economist Chad Stone of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, long-term unemployment currently "equals the highest rate achieved in any previous recession since the end of World War II." Stone also noted that when previous emergency unemployment insurance programs expired, the long-term unemployment rate was at far lower levels.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board pushed long-debunked myths about the minimum wage, misleadingly criticizing the growing support for increasing the minimum wage as economically destructive.
In a December 5 editorial, the Journal criticized President Obama's support of increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, claiming that the move would harm the economy and the job market. After lamenting the passage of a number of recent state-level minimum wage hikes, The editorial concluded:
Our readers are familiar with the mountains of evidence that minimum wages lead to fewer workers hired. Small minimum-wage hikes have small negative employment effects, but raising a worker's cost by 50% or more risks pricing many low-skilled workers out of the job market.
While the Journal claims that there are "mountains of evidence" that support the claim that minimum wage hikes are harmful to the labor market, it never offers any specific proof about their broader impact. If it had actually looked at the "mountains of evidence" concerning minimum wage hikes, a different picture would emerge.
Research conducted by economists Paul Wolfson of Dartmouth and Dale Belman of Michigan State looked at a variety of studies published on the minimum wage since 2000. While some found negative employment effects and some found positive effects, their analysis concluded that across studies, there are no statistically significant negative hiring effects of increasing the minimum wage.
Furthermore, according to a report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, while "employment responses generally cluster near zero," the effect of a minimum wage hike on employment is "more likely to be positive than negative."
Of course, nowhere in its editorial did the Journal note the positive effect a minimum wage increase would have on workers. According to the Economic Policy Institute, raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would increase the wages of about 30 million workers, 88 percent of whom are at least 20 years old.
In addition to the benefit of workers receiving higher wages, a minimum wage increase would also help the economy at large. According to the same EPI study, the increased spending power of workers would increase gross domestic product by about $32 billion and create approximately 140,000 jobs.
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