The past 12 months witnessed innumerable attacks on social safety net programs in the United States. These attacks on American social insurance programs were hardly limited to Social Security -- all forms of social insurance, including unemployment benefits, food stamps, and disability, came under fire from mainstream and conservative media alike, regardless of the programs' social or economic benefits. Media Matters compiled a list of the six types of attacks on the social safety net in 2013.
For more than three years, an influential study by two Harvard economists -- Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff -- provided a plausible foundation for attacks on spending of all types. The study fostered debt-paranoia among pundits otherwise interested in austere fiscal policies.
An April study by economists at the University of Massachusetts, however, concluded that the Reinhart-Rogoff data was error-filled in a way that selectively biased the results. A further review of the corrected data by economists at the University of Michigan found that the study should have been deemed inconclusive.
Despite losing its intellectual foundation in April, the deficit reduction talking point maintained a prominent position in fiscal policy discussion throughout the year.
Media calls for deficit reduction in the past year also regularly relied on budget reporting that lacked adequate context that federal budget deficits have declined precipitously from their 2009 peak. A Media Matters review of budget reporting done by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post revealed that a sizeable majority of articles provided budget items and program spending figures out of context. Further analysis concluded this misrepresentative reporting to be little more than a scare tactic, which bolstered calls for deeper cuts to the safety net for the sake of alleged fiscal responsibility.
This lack of context in media, and the effect it had in shifting the policy debate, eventually encouraged Times public editor Margaret Sullivan to issue a statement promising to correct problematic reporting standards going forward, but other outlets have yet to follow suit.
Fox News fabricated a connection between the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) and a recent consumer survey to conclude that the law is hurting the economy in time for the holiday shopping season.
On the December 16 edition of Your World with Neil Cavuto, guest host Stuart Varney and Fox Business contributor Elizabeth MacDonald claimed that the ACA is depressing holiday spending. Their claims, based on a consumer survey released by Bankrate.com, showed that 38 percent of respondents plan to spend less during the holidays this year than the previous year.
Varney and MacDonald surmised that the health reform law is driving more Americans into less lucrative part-time work and, in turn, dragging down workers' ability to engage in commerce. MacDonald added "there is concern on the part of businesses over health reform," citing information from the Federal Reserve:
Varney and MacDonald's claims are unfounded.
The survey, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, makes zero mentions of the ACA or health reform and trends for most surveyed indicators -- from holiday spending and job security to personal savings and financial security -- are largely flat from year-to-year.
Furthermore, MacDonald's claim that the Federal Reserve Beige Book indicates a sense of unease in the business community regarding the ACA is a significant exaggeration. The Fed's most-recent official statement recognizes "concern about future cost increases attributable to the Affordable Care Act and other types of federal regulation," but lists no examples of those costs or any other negative consequences currently assigned to the law.
The "Obamacare Part-Time Jobs Myth" has also been easily dispelled by actual economists, including some of the same outlets that initially pushed the claims. Fox News has spent years blaming the Affordable Care Act for every hiccup in the economy including the unfounded claim that Obamacare forces employees into part-time work, or destroys jobs altogether.
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.
Fox News' Neil Cavuto refused to hear arguments in favor of expanded infrastructure investments, instead claiming that revenue for necessary improvements will be lost to fraud or waste. Cavuto has repeatedly argued against and downplayed the necessity of infrastructure spending, revealing his misunderstanding of the the federal budgeting process and the current state of American infrastructure.
On the December 3 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto, Cavuto engaged in a contentious interview with Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) regarding the congressman's proposal to increase the federal gas tax as a means of financing necessary investments in roads, bridges, and other forms of public infrastructure around the country.
On the December 4 edition of Your World, Cavuto returned to the previous night's argument in his opening segment. He was joined in his heated criticism of infrastructure investments by libertarian pundit Matt Welch, editor-in-chief of Reason magazine. Both Cavuto and Welch continually claimed that they do not know where all of the infrastructure and transportation revenue has gone; maintaining only that it must not be going to the places where it is needed:
CAVUTO: To make the point here, that we're not following the moneys we're already spending that, I think, are not exactly in a 'lock box' just meant for this sort of thing.
WELCH: Yeah, I mean if you look at people who advocate for big government, they actually don't spend a lot of time extolling the virtues of big government, because that is an awkward conversation and because it requires them to do what you were asking earlier, is just document what you've already spent.
WELCH: Spending money on the federal level is an inefficient way to deal with local, and state, and city roads.
CAVUTO: If you were to add it all up. Let's say now -- being devil's advocate here -- let's take the stimulus money, the shovel-ready projects a lot of them were infrastructure-targeted, at around $800 billion and average it out over the last five years and throw in the $60 billion or so you're supposed to get from the oil companies, a lot of taxes, and they were going to tap that for infrastructure. You're looking at $250-300 billion a year that would be presumably allocated to just this sort of thing. We're asking for more?
Cavuto's central argument is that the federal government must not be spending money on infrastructure if our infrastructure is in a state of disrepair. Cavuto repeated a popular Fox News thesis, claiming that the government is wasting, misallocating or stealing tax dollars instead of putting them to good use.
In fact, the government's infrastructure budget is simply woefully underfunded.
As the Detroit bankruptcy moves forward, Fox News personalities have been quick to blame worker unions and political corruption for the city's unfunded pension liabilities. This discourse ignores the forces actually undermining Detroit's financial solvency: the dramatic reduction of the city's population and taxbase since its post-war peak.
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.
After weeks of highlighting negative aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), media outlets have largely underreported the law's success in helping slow the growth of health care costs.
Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer attacked attempts to reduce income equality as only exacerbating economic growth and unemployment. But leading economists have supported government efforts to address inequality, calling it a paramount issue facing the country.
On the November 18 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly and Krauthammer met ostensibly to discuss rising economic inequality in the United States. Their conversation, however, quickly devolved into standard attacks against the efficacy of policies aimed at reducing inequality and building economic security. Citing a report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), O'Reilly highlighted the "astounding" income gains of the top 1 percent of earners from 1979 to 2007 before turning to blame President Obama for failing to address growing inequality during his administration. Krauthammer joined the chorus, blaming President Obama's expressed concern with reducing economic inequality for actually driving unequal economic growth during his time in office [emphasis added]:
O'REILLY: President Obama promotes income equality, but during his time in office the rich are getting richer and the median income for working Americans has actually gone down. Joining us now from Washington, Charles Krauthammer. So why is this happening?
KRAUTHAMMER: It's happening because there is low economic growth. It's what Kennedy said; a rising economic tide lifts all boats. If you're obsessed with equality, as they are in Europe, what you end up with is chronic unemployment.
Krauthammer's claim that efforts to reduce economic inequality have an adverse effect on the economy is patently false. Economist Robert Reich has argued for decades that economic inequality "is bad for everyone," including the very wealthy, because it reduces economic growth potential.
Reich is not alone among noted economists championing policies that reduce inequality as a means to spur economic growth.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller recently told the Associated Press that "rising inequality in the United States and elsewhere in the world" is "[t]he most important problem that we are facing today." Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman agrees; reducing economic inequality should be a primary policy goal in the United States. In a column titled "Rich Man's Recovery", Krugman argued that the continued concentration of wealth among the very wealthy "undermine[s] all the values that define America." Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz encouraged politicians to address economic inequality in 2013 as a means of unleashing a robust and sustainable economic recovery. Recently, Stiglitz has stated that "inequality is a choice."
Fox News pushed a number of discredited myths to attack renewed calls for raising the minimum wage, ignoring research and prevailing opinions' of economists.
On November 7, President Obama expressed support for the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which seeks to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
Reacting to the renewed call to raise the minimum wage on the November 8 edition of Fox News' Happening Now, reporter Doug McKelway dedicated a segment to discussing its potential economic effects. McKelway expressed doubt over the economic merits of raising the minimum wage and claimed that it would force companies to "cut back by getting rid of workers or increasing the price of goods they make or sell."
Instead of informing viewers with research about the effects of raising the minimum wage, McKelway's report largely hinged upon an interview with construction contractor and conservative activist Brett MacMahon and anecdotal evidence. Had McKelway attempted to give a fact-based report on the minimum wage, viewers would know that increasing it has been found to have a positive impact on job creation and economic growth.
According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), which recently examined research on the minimum wage since 2000, "[t]he weight of that evidence points to little or no employment response to modest increases in the minimum wage." Indeed, CEPR's findings back up previous studies, one of which found that hiring responses to minimum wage hikes are more likely to be positive than negative.
A minimum wage analysis published by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) revealed the broader impact of gradually raising the federal minimum wage above $10 per hour by July 1, 2015. According to EPI, increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would result in over $51 billion in additional wages paid to roughly 30 million American workers. The wage increase would stimulate nearly $33 billion of increased GDP growth while creating as many as 140,000 new jobs.
According to EPI tabulations, increasing the minimum wage would have its largest impact on workers at the lower end of the income bracket, but the positive side effects would still be felt by hundreds of thousands of households with income in excess of $150,000 annually.
McKelway continued pushing his inaccurate minimum wage reporting later on Fox News' America's News HQ. The segment focused heavily on the alleged negative impact an increased minimum wage would have on young and teen workers. However, according to the aforementioned EPI study, a gradual wage increase similar to that supported by President Obama would largely affect workers aged 20 years or older, with teenage workers only representing a little more than 11 percent of those receiving increased wages.
Increasing the federal minimum wage to $10 per hour is supported by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), which claims such a wage increase would positively impact "nearly one in every five workers in the country." Furthermore, a February 2013 survey of economists conducted by the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business found wide support for President Obama's previous call for raising the minimum wage to $9.00.
Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham tried to downplay the effects of the recent government shutdown by citing data from before the shutdown even began.
On November 7, the Commerce Department released its latest economic growth estimate for the third quarter of 2013. These data, which track the growth of gross domestic product (GDP) from July through September 2013, revealed a 2.8 percent growth rate over that three-month period.
On Twitter, Ingraham interpreted the reported 2.8 percent GDP growth rate as evidence that the 16-day government shutdown -- orchestrated by the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives and emboldened by favorable right-wing media coverage -- actually had little effect on the economy.
If Ingraham had taken time to read actual reporting on the subject, she would have seen that the third-quarter report (July-September) does not include any negative effects of the government shutdown, which started on October 1. From the LA Times:
The third-quarter outcome was nearly a full percentage point stronger than most economists had predicted. Analysts expect the shutdown will slow growth in the October-December quarter.
A widely-reported impact estimate from financial ratings agency Standard & Poor's put the cost of the government shutdown at roughly $24 billion. The agency also lowered its growth forecast for the last quarter of the year (October through December). Economists argue that the shutdown will have lingering effects on the labor market and overall economy for the foreseeable future. The shutdown also eroded consumer confidence and may have derailed our gradual economic recovery.
Ingraham's faulty attempt to downplay the negative economic consequences of the government shutdown reveals a clear misunderstanding of the facts and of calendars.
UPDATE (11/7): Ingraham has since deleted her tweet and has issued no correction to her Twitter account at time of posting.