After loudly and falsely claiming that a new Congressional Budget Office study reported that the Affordable Care Act will "kill" more than two million jobs in coming years (it did not), Fox News talkers and the right-wing media industry quickly opted for a second (and equally phony) line of attack this week. They condemned the sad state of the American worker, suggesting they're shiftless and lazy and blamed the Obama administration is turning them into ungrateful sloths.
Focusing on the CBO projection that Obama's health care reform may prompt two million workers over the next ten years to voluntarily leave their jobs, or cut back their hours, Bill O'Reilly announced the administration is "creating a class of layabouts." Stuart Varney compared the worker choice trend to "extending the hand-out society." And Brian Kilmeade bemoaned how "the whole work ethic and self-esteem" thing was being undercut by Obama.
A miffed Greta Van Susteren was also deeply offended by the prospects of American workers choosing to work less in order to strike a better balance in their family lives without living in fear of not being covered by health care insurance. "Do you know anyone who has gotten successful by working less?" she asked Staples CEO Tom Stemberg, a longtime critic of Obamacare.
Why the anti-workout freakout?
After all, the key point here is that Obamacare will soon give a portion of workers a choice of whether they want to work or not (perhaps even temporarily) or whether they want to cut back the hours they work. Why the new choice? Because Obamacare will allow people in lower income brackets access to affordable health care coverage regardless of whether they're employed. So people who feel trapped in jobs that are used primarily as a way to obtain coverage will suddenly have options. (That workplace condition is known as "job lock," something Republicans had previously opposed.)
Millionaire Fox pundits might not realize it but most Americans, and certainly most young American families with two working parents, lead complicated lives as they juggle responsibilities that entail more than taping a 60-minute television show five times a week. (Bill O'Reilly earns approximately $80,000-per episode.) Flexibility for them is a good thing.
Still, the condemnation rained down.
It's a rather startling, judgmental attack when you consider that the employees in question might opt out of their jobs in exchange for early retirement, to better care for family members, or to start a company of their own. None of those scenarios would even remotely reflect poorly on the workers.
Right-wing media outlets are falsely claiming that workers voluntarily reducing hours due to provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is evidence that the law is harmful to the economy, ignoring economists' opinions about its role in reducing economic insecurity.
From the February 4 edition of Fox News' The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson:
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At Fox News, President Obama's push to increase the federal minimum wage for millions of American workers through legislative and executive action is merely a "symbolic" gesture.
On January 28, the White House announced that President Obama had authorized an executive order raising the minimum pay for federal workers to $10.10 per hour, a regulation that will be effective for all employees signing a new federal contract. According to the White House's official press release, the president hopes that this move will encourage Congress to take action on a proposal by Representative George Miller (D-CA) and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 for all American workers.
On the January 28 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, co-host Bill Hemmer called the move a "shot across the bow" for congressional Republicans resisting an increase to the minimum wage. Fox Business' Stuart Varney questioned the White House's motivation, claiming that it was a "symbolic" move motivated by political circumstances and concluding that an executive order lifting wages for all federal employees was simply "not a big deal":
Varney's disregard for the impact of executive action on the minimum wage mirrors comments from other Fox News personalities. On the January 27 edition of The Real Story, contributor Charles Payne scoffed at the notion that lifting the minimum wage is an important goal, noting, "higher minimum wage is not the cure, we're talking about something that impacts less than 3 percent of real workers."
Demos' Heather McGhee hailed the Obama administration for lifting federal pay through executive order, noting that the decision "adds momentum to the fight for a federal minimum wage increase." According to research from the Economic Policy Institute, adopting a $10.10 minimum wage nationwide, which would require congressional legislative action, would positively impact the wages of more than 27 million workers while boosting overall economic growth by $22 billion and creating enough economic demand to support 85,000 new jobs.
Increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 nationwide also has the support of hundreds of economists around the country, including numerous Nobel Laureates.
In an economy as large as the United States, while it may be easy for right-wing media voices to shrug off the implications of minimum wage policies, the fact is that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 3.6 million American workers currently work at or below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. After adjusting for inflation, the federal minimum wage is lower than at any point from the 1950s to the early 1980s.
Right-wing media's opposition to raising the minimum wage has grown as public sentiment has turned in favor of it. Varney's pattern of deriding both policies to lift wages and low-wage workers themselves appears to be par for the course.
Fox News erased the devastating impact of a cut to unemployment insurance in North Carolina, citing a questionable University of Oslo study and pushing the North Carolina approach as a way to remove people from an unemployment "trap." In reality, North Carolina's jobless benefits cut pushed many job-seekers out of the employment search and into 8-hour long food bank lines.
From the January 14 edition of Fox News' The Real Story:
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Fox Business host Stuart Varney, who has repeatedly mocked low-income Americans, dismissed the War on Poverty as ineffective on its 50th anniversary, ignoring evidence that government anti-poverty programs have been vital in decreasing the poverty rate.
On January 8, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson used his State of the Union address to enumerate proposals and policy prescriptions that would come to be known as the War on Poverty. Many of these proposals were eventually signed into law, such as Medicare, Medicaid, and a permanent food stamp program.
Fifty years later, Fox Business host Stuart Varney dismissed the success of these programs. In a January 8 America's Newsroom segment, Varney cast doubt on the War on Poverty's effectiveness in reducing the poverty rate:
VARNEY: We have not made that much progress in reducing the poverty rate. 15 percent of Americans are still in poverty. It's roughly the same level as it was back in 1964. It did help feed hungry people, treat sick people, and it did raise the standard of living for many, many poor people. However, the proportion of people still living in poverty, pretty much the same as it was back in 1964, Martha.
The federal anti-poverty programs Varney discounts actually helped reduce the poverty rate from 26 percent to 16 percent from 1967 to 2011, according to a recent study by the Columbia Population Research Center at Columbia University. From the study (emphasis added):
The OPM shows the overall poverty rates to be nearly the same in 1967 and 2011 -- at 14% and 15% respectively. But our counterfactual estimates using the anchored SPM show that without taxes and other government programs, poverty would have been roughly flat at 27-29%, while with government benefits poverty has fallen from 26% to 16% -- a 40% reduction. Government programs today are cutting poverty nearly in half (from 29% to 16%) while in 1967 they only cut poverty by about one percentage point.
The New York Times' Economix blog put that data into graph form to show how vital government programs have been in keeping people out of poverty:
Indeed, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, it is "simply not valid or accurate" to claim that federal efforts to alleviate poverty have largely failed.
Varney's refusal to acknowledge the progress made in the War on Poverty is in keeping with his record of shaming the poor. He has said that low-income Americans "have things -- what they lack is the richness of spirit," argued that furloughed federal workers deserve to be "punish[ed]," and attacked government funding for feeding children and seniors.
As the nation has recently experienced unusually cold winter weather, climate "skeptics" have emerged from within conservative media, casting doubt on the scientific consensus about manmade global warming -- a yearly phenomenon dubbed by MSNBC's Chris Hayes as "snow-trolling."
Stephen Colbert accurately summarized how conservatives often perform "simple observational research" to deny climate change: "Whatever just happened is the only thing that is happening." It appears many doubters need a lesson in the difference between weather and climate: a single weather event does not negate a long-term climate trend (although climatologists are actually getting better at identifying which extreme weather events that climate change has worsened). On average, the planet has been warming at a rate of 0.17°C, or 0.3°F*, per decade since 1971. The most recent decade was the planet's warmest on record -- even including a few cold winters.
Fox News is convinced that the recent increase in federal disability benefits must be suspicious -- but they're ignoring the historic rise of disabling conditions, which results in 1 in 5 Americans with disabilities.
During a January 3 Fox & Friends segment about "Who's Ruining the Economy," co-host Steve Doocy asked why more Americans were receiving Social Security disability benefits, wondering "are there simply more people who are becoming disabled, or are more people just simply becoming desperate?"
Guest and Fox Business host Stuart Varney replied, "I think it's the latter. A lot of people are taking the disability option," suggesting that millions of Americans were faking their disabilities in order to receive benefits while unemployed.
Varney is simply wrong. As medical advancements allow us to live longer lives, they are also making us more likely to live with disabilities. The Global Burden of Disease Study 2010, produced over five years by hundreds of researchers around the world, revealed that on average the world population lives longer and is more likely to survive lethal diseases than ever before. As The Washington Post reported, this means that "people are living with conditions that don't kill them but that affect their health":
"These are things like mental disorders, substance abuse, musculoskeletal pain, vision loss, hearing loss . . . that cause a huge amount of disability but not a whole lot of death," said Murray, who heads the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
People are living longer lives, but the time they are gaining isn't entirely time with good health. For every year of life expectancy added since 1990, about 91 / 2 months is time in good health. The rest is time in a diminished state -- in pain, immobility, mental incapacity or medical support such as dialysis. For people who survive to age 50, the added time is "discounted" even further. For every added year they get, only seven months are healthy.
"Progress in reducing disability just hasn't kept pace with progress in reducing mortality," said Joshua A. Salomon of the Harvard School of Public Health, one of the project leaders.
Only about 1 in 25 Americans receive disability benefits, but nearly 1 in 5 Americans have a disability. That's about 56.7 million people. The Social Security administration further estimates that a 20-year-old worker today has a 1 in 4 chance of becoming disabled before reaching retirement.
Furthermore, as Media Matters has repeatedly and extensively documented, despite Fox's never-ending campaign to demonize Social Security disability, it is not an "option" that out-of-work individuals can rely on if they do not have severe disabilities. The eligibility criteria are stringent, with waiting periods that are typically months long, and more than half of all applicants are denied. There is also no evidence that people receiving disability benefits are hurting the economy.
The rise of disabling medical conditions is a serious issue for millions of Americans, and the ability of the federal disability programs to help some of those individuals survive when they are unable to work could be at risk if Congress fails to reallocate the necessary funds for the programs, which they have routinely done before. But Fox would rather push baseless and deceptive fears about these necessary federal programs than accurately report on the medical conditions millions of Americans live with every day.
From the January 2 edition of MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes:
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Fox's Stuart Varney reversed economists' findings on unemployment benefits, claiming economists view an extension of benefits as "a trap" that discourages unemployed Americans from gaining employment, a notion that experts have repeatedly discredited.
On December 28, 1.3 million unemployed Americans lost their unemployment benefits with the expiration of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) Program, an emergency federal provision that extended unemployment benefits to workers when their state benefits ran out. The program began in 2008 to help those who lost their jobs in the recession, and because Congressional Republicans now oppose its renewal, Washington Post's Wonkblog explained, "the maximum length of time that states can offer jobless benefits will suddenly drop to 26 weeks or less."
Fox Business host Stuart Varney dismissed these now-lost unemployment benefits as a "trap" on the January 2 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, claiming that economists believe the benefits act as a disincentive for finding work (emphasis added):
VARNEY: Democrats essentially give you two reasons [for extending benefits]. Number one, it's the right thing to do: people are hurting, people are in need, it's the right thing to do to extend those unemployment benefits to over a million people who just lost those benefits. Second reason is the economy needs that spending power, it needs the people spending their jobless benefit check, and if you do that you create some jobs. That is the Democrats' argument. The counterargument from Republicans is, how long do you keep paying for? It's already roughly two years, you want to extend it some more, and if so, how do you pay for it? We're just going to run up the debt. And economists argue that if you extend even more you're extending the trap that many fall into, they cannot afford to take a job because if they took a job they would lose all kinds of benefits, unemployment benefit, food stamps, health care, you name it, they lose it. So this system we've got is a trap, and Republicans and many economists do not want to see that trap extended.
From the January 2 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Company:
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Media Matters looks back at the best of the worst of right-wing media's treatment of women in 2013.
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.
To hear conservatives tell it, Santa Claus is most definitely white, and his home isn't melting. At least that's what Fox News, with its recent barrage of attacks on an ad in which Santa warns about the impact of climate change on his Arctic home, would lead you to believe.
In December, the environmental group Greenpeace released an ad featuring the butler from Downton Abbey as a distraught Santa, who warns that as climate change drives continued Arctic ice melt, he may have to cancel Christmas. The ad calls for protecting the Arctic from offshore oil drilling, which, in a grim irony, is only possible in the region because of the ice melt.
The cheeky video was a "new low" achieved by "any-means-necessary" tactics, according to Fox News. It was also a chance to deny climate change. Rush Limbaugh declared "The ice is not melting at the North Pole," and a Fox News guest said "Santa's home is going to be fine ... for a long, long time to come." Fox News co-host Eric Bolling claimed contrary to any temperature record that "the globe is getting colder":
But Santa is right: the North Pole is melting. Arctic ice registered a record low in 2012 in line with a long-term melting trend. The sea ice extent in 2013 was not as low as 2012's (as was expected), but it was still among the lowest extents in the 35-year record, and does not represent a "recovery":