"It turns out the rich have suffered more than you," concluded Fox Business host Stuart Varney, after a new analysis found income inequality hasn't risen since the financial crisis.
According to new analysis from economist Stephen J. Rose of George Washington University, existing data points reveal that income inequality has not actually risen since the recession, due in part to income losses incurred by the wealthiest one percent during the financial crisis. As The New York Times explained on February 17, though income inequality is still enormously high:
[T]he crisis, which ran roughly from 2007 to 2010, reduced the pretax incomes of the wealthiest Americans more than the incomes of any group. The wealthy have indeed received the bulk of the gains since the recovery began, but they still haven't recovered their losses. Meanwhile, the steps that the federal government took in response to the crisis, including tax cuts and benefit increases, have mostly helped the nonwealthy.
Of course, income inequality is still at historically troubling rates, and could potential even worsen, as the Times repeatedly noted.
But Fox Business' Varney had a much different takeaway from the report. On the February 17 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, Varney cited the report to argue the recession hurt the rich more than others, saying, "The rich took it on the chin, everyone else took it on the chin, but not as badly." A data point for his argument was "for the very, very wealthiest people ... their income went from $39 million in 07 to 29 million in 2013." Though Varney acknowledged that income losses are felt more strongly by those with less wealth, he claimed that "government programs" made it so the lower and middle classes "didn't suffer quite as much as that one percent." He concluded, "It turns out, the rich have suffered more than you."
From the February 12 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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A Fox News Special Report segment hyped fears that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) could impose a penalty on taxpayers who received an advanced premium subsidy to help defer the cost of health care insurance. But the report failed to note that the IRS offers penalty relief to some taxpayers.
According to The New York Times, many ACA enrollees who qualified for a subsidy and chose to have it paid in advanced based on their projected 2014 income may have to pay for subsidy overpayments. The Times explained, if "their actual income was higher -- because they got a raise or found a new job -- they will be entitled to a smaller subsidy and must repay the difference, subject to certain limits."
On the February 6 edition of Special Report, guest host Chris Wallace claimed that "many tax-payers are getting a nasty surprise courtesy of the president's health care law." White House correspondent Kevin Corke reported that millions could have to pay a tax penalty due to the overpayment of income-based federal subsidies to purchase health insurance under the ACA. Corke claimed that "millions may have underestimated their tax snapshot and now have to pay":
From the February 6 edition of MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes:
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After the release of the Labor Department's monthly jobs report showing robust job growth and a significant increase in hourly wages, Fox News framed the numbers negatively and suggested the headline was the fact that the unemployment rate ticked up.
The U.S. added 257,000 jobs last month and has seen a significant increase in hourly wages, according to a February 6 report from the Labor Department. The last three months combined have resulted in the biggest gain in jobs in the past 17 years.
Immediately after the numbers were released, Fox News' Fox & Friends hosts portrayed the news in a negative light. Host Elisabeth Hasselbeck introduced the segment saying, "Nicole Petallides from our sister network Fox Business has the numbers for you, beginning with an increase in the unemployment rate." After listening to Petallides run through the positive numbers -- including her explanation that the increase in the unemployment rate is "great news" because it means more people are entering the workforce -- host Steve Doocy closed the segment saying, "So the headline is unemployment rate ticks up to 5.7" percent.
Early news coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign has tacitly allowed the GOP to disingenuously rebrand itself as a party of the middle class, despite the fact that the party's new rhetoric doesn't align with its policy positions that continue to exacerbate income inequality. When highlighting Republican rhetoric about the need to reduce income inequality, media should take care to hold the GOP accountable for its actions, not just its words.
Recent Gallup polling shows "two out of three Americans are dissatisfied with the way income and wealth are currently distributed in the U.S.," and Republicans have taken note. Prospective GOP presidential candidates have suddenly started talking about income inequality ahead of the 2016 elections, apparently heeding advice from the Republican National Committee's (RNC) post-mortem of the 2012 election, which warned that the GOP had been "increasingly marginalizing itself" and urged the party to improve its optics by recognizing the fact "that the middle class has struggled mightily and that far too many of our citizens live in poverty."
During the January 25 Koch brothers-sponsored Freedom Partners Forum, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (TX), Rand Paul (KY), and Marco Rubio (FL) each took the opportunity to bemoan income inequality and blame the Obama administration for a growing income gap. Mitt Romney claimed that "income inequality had worsened" during President Obama's time in office in a January 28 speech at Mississippi State University, while Jeb Bush's "Right to Rise" PAC has declared that "the income gap is real."
The Washington Post, Politico, USA Today, and Bloomberg Politics each reported on the 2016 hopefuls' Freedom Partners comments, highlighting the senators' statements lamenting income inequality and focusing on "issues such as the minimum wage ... [and] tax reform." The Wall Street Journal featured Republican policy proposals "aimed at boosting the middle class," and applauded Bush, Romney, Rubio, and Paul for "promoting or seeking ideas for shoring up the middle class." The Post's Post Politics blog and NBCNews.com's "First Read" emphasized Romney's recent focus on income inequality and poverty, pointing to speeches at the RNC and Mississippi State University.
These media outlets acknowledged the fact that Republicans are changing their rhetoric on inequality -- but it's actions and policies that count, not just rhetoric. Media cannot take GOP candidates at their word when their policies continue to exacerbate inequality and burden the middle and lower class.
Cruz, Paul, and Rubio all oppose recent calls to raise the minimum wage. At a January 25 private donor event, each of these senators argued that raising the minimum wage would eliminate jobs. Cruz claimed "the minimum wage consistently hurts the most vulnerable," while Rubio called focus on raising the minimum wage "a waste of time." During the same event, none of the senators "said they could stomach any tax increases," and Rubio called the ACA a "perfect example" of "cronyism," blaming health reform for halting job creation. Just this month, Cruz introduced a bill to repeal the health care law, while Paul echoed calls to repeal and suggested instead to "try freedom for a while." Such positions are consistent with the GOP's historic stances on these issues. As MSNBC's Steve Benen noted, supposed Republican attempts to address income inequality, "in practice, ... apparently mean endorsing an agenda that cuts off unemployment benefits, slashes food stamps, cuts funding for public services, eliminates health care benefits, and rejects minimum wage increases."
Economists have often noted that wage stagnation has a profound impact on aggravating income inequality, and as the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has pointed out, raising the federal minimum wage just to $10.10 per hour by 2016 would "raise the wages of 27.8 million workers." The Congressional Budget Office has also reported on the "ripple effect" of raising the minimum wage, saying it would benefit 16.5 million workers and lift nearly one million people out of poverty. And according to a Center For American Progress report, a $10.10 minimum wage would cut food stamp participation and taxpayer expenditures by $4.6 billion annually. Support for anti-poverty government programs -- like SNAP, unemployment benefits, school lunch programs, and the like -- cut the country's poverty rate "nearly in half," according to research from the Institute for Research on Poverty.
Rather than alleviating income inequality, lawmakers have worsened inequality by consistently cutting taxes on the wealthiest Americans, according to a 2013 EPI study. Economist Larry Summers has emphasized the importance of "closing [tax] loopholes that only the wealthy can enjoy," noting that would "enable targeted tax measures such as the earned-income tax credit to raise the incomes of the poor and middle class more than dollar for dollar by incentivizing working and saving."
And despite countless Republican attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the health care law will reduce income inequality, boost the incomes of lower and middle-class Americans, and extend coverage to 15.1 million uninsured adults with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
Media acknowledging the GOP's new talking points and mottos is one thing. But given the 2016 hopefuls' apparent commitment to policies that stand in contrast to their rhetoric on income inequality, media should make sure and hold these Republicans accountable for their actions, not just their words.
Fox News host Bill Hemmer claimed that job losses due to sequestration "apparently ... did not happen," ignoring that hundreds of layoffs across industries like national security and education were attributable to sequestration's budget cuts.
On the February 3 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, host Hemmer took issue with a statement made by President Obama in February 2013 in which he asserted that if sequestration happened, "thousands of Americans who work in fields like national security, education or clean energy are likely to be laid off." Hemmer replied "so, apparently that did not happen."
In fact, a wide range of organizations related to national security were forced to lay off employees, among them defense contractors, workers at a nuclear site, army depot employees, and employees at a company that repairs U.S. Navy ships.
In the field of education, which Obama mentioned, the effects of sequestration included teacher layoffs in states like Florida, Illinois, Minnesota and New Jersey. Valuable educational programs, like Head Start, were unable to get funding, which resulted in widespread teacher job losses.
Another field that was heavily hit by the effects of sequestration was science and medical research, with hundreds of scientists, including those working on cancer and HIV research, laid off due to the resulting budget cuts.
From the January 30 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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Right-wing media outlets used a flawed National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) working paper to attack unemployment insurance (UI), claiming that the paper proved that UI disincentives work. In fact, experts criticized the paper's methodology and data, and one of the paper's co-authors admitted that most UI recipients look for work while receiving benefits.
Right-wing media figures misleadingly attacked and dismissed the need for paid parental leave after President Obama's State of the Union speech advocated for expanding these programs to more Americans. In fact, economists have found that increasing paid leave would boost the economy, increase wages, and keep families out of poverty.
Fox's Bill O'Reilly downplayed the impact of raising the minimum wage, claiming only an"infinitesimal" number of people would be impacted, and ignoring the 27.8 million Americans that would benefit from a raise in the minimum wage.
During the January 20 State of the Union address, President Obama urged members of Congress to raise the minimum wage, saying those "who still refuse to raise the minimum wage, I say this: If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it. If not, vote to give millions of the hardest working people in America a raise."
On the January 21 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly and network contributor Eric Shawn undermined President Obama's minimum wage initiative, and diminished the number of Americans that would be impacted by raising the minimum wage. O'Reilly asserted that only "a very low number" of people make "minimum wage anyways," claiming that the number of people who would be impacted by the change would be "infinitesimal" and saying Obama has been "misleading everybody" by insisting a raise would have a big effect:
But according to the Economic Policy Institute, raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by 2016 would "raise the wages of 27.8 million workers, who would receive about $35 billion in additional wages over the phase-in period."
Right-wing media maligned Obama's economic policy initiatives announced during his State Of The Union address as both divisive class warfare and Santa Claus-style giveaways.
Coverage of the economy on weeknight television news shows during the last six months of 2014 continued to focus heavily on policies meant to boost job creation and economic growth, but discussions overwhelmingly lacked input from actual economists. Additionally, a Media Matters analysis uncovered a relative decline in the number of segments promoting the conservative media myths that Obamacare and increasing the minimum wage hurt the labor market.
From the January 20 edition of CNN's CNN Tonight:
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Fox News misleadingly asked whether President Obama's new tax initiative which proposes to cut taxes on the middle class was "raising your taxes?" In reality, Obama's plan lowers middle class taxes and is funded by closing tax loopholes and increasing capital gain taxes on the top one percent of earners.