The left’s push to increase the federal minimum wage was renewed in January, even being promoted by the president. The networks’ covered the topic from the left, ignoring concerns about wage hikes the vast majority of the time.
ABC, CBS and NBC news programs ignored conservative objections to minimum wage proposals 89 percent of the time (17 of 19 stories), immediately undermining these views when they were mentioned.
President Barack Obama renewed his push to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 in his Jan. 28, State of the Union address. The networks took the opportunity to intensify their own support for minimum wage hikes throughout January 2014. ABC, CBS and NBC openly praised minimum wage increases as both “welcome news” for the poor and politically sound for the Democrats.
The networks ran 19 stories mentioning the minimum wage during January 2014, with 12 of those stories supportive of wage hikes. Seven stories were neutral. While conservative objections were included in two stories (both on CBS), or 11 percent, the network immediately undermined those views by making arguments or interviewing guests who disagreed.
Even though the issue was economic, the networks didn’t include an economist in any of those reports on minimum wage. The closest they came was on Jan. 5, when NBC “Nightly News” interviewed Gene Sperling, a lawyer who directs Obama’s National Economic Council. They never covered a conservative expert.
Following the State of the Union speech, the networks hyped Obama’s campaign-style events where he promoted executive action on minimum wage for federal contractors. On Jan. 29, “World News,” ABC’s Jonathan Karl repeated Obama’s own rhetoric, saying he “was out there hitting that ‘give America a raise’ theme hard today.”
But such cheerleading predated the president’s speech too. When new state-level minimum wage laws took effect on Jan. 1, NBC’s Lester Holt gushed to “Nightly News” viewers that this legislation “brings welcome news to about 2.5 million workers across the country.” He never mentioned the unwelcome news to the low-skilled employees now facing unemployment.
CBS Includes, But Undermines Conservative Views
None of the networks’ stories on minimum wage were biased towards conservative criticism of increases.
CBS’ “Sunday Morning” on Jan. 5, and CBS “Evening News” Jan. 29, did include brief conservative arguments, but in both cases, reporters immediately undermined the conservative position.
On “Sunday Morning,” Charles Osgood brought up a conservative position, though he immediately undermined it with a CBS poll saying, “Though business groups argue that increasing the wage would discourage hiring, 69 percent of Americans support boosting it to at least $9-an-hour.”
Nancy Cordes mentioned a Republican Congressman’s objections to a higher minimum wage, saying “Minnesota Congressman Eric Paulson argues hiking the minimum wage will cause businesses to hire fewer workers to save costs,”on “Evening News” Jan. 29.
But after playing a clip of Rep. Paulson’s remarks, Cordes immediately disagreed: “It was the way to go for his constituents, John Soranno and John Puckett, who owned a pizza chain President Obama highlighted last night.” She then praised a Minnesota pizza parlor which pays workers a “$10-an-hour starting wage,” according to owner John Soranno. But there is a problem with the example because one business’s voluntary decision to pay a certain wage is not the same as compulsory minimum wage hikes.
The networks also touted the minimum wage campaign as a smart political maneuver for the Democrats, pointing out how bad it looked for Republicans to oppose it. On Jan. 5, “Nightly News, NBC’s Kristen Welker described the “Democratic strategy designed to paint Republicans as the party of the rich ahead of the fall elections.”
NBC’s Peter Alexander made similar remarks Jan. 29, on “Today” saying Obama “tried to cast Republicans as uncaring about the middle class” over income inequality issues, such as the minimum wage.
Conservative Critics Warn of Reduced Hiring, Price Increases and Little Impact on Poverty
Despite the networks’ biased portrayal of the debate, conservatives do not oppose minimum wage increases because they are “uncaring.”
Conservative economists and think tanks have demonstrated repeatedly that minimum wage hikes discourage hiring for many low-skill workers, raise the cost of living, and don’t even significantly reduce poverty.
Academic evidence has shown that minimum wage increases reduce hiring and overall employment. Economist David Neumark, of the University of California at Irvine, and William Wascher, Deputy Director of Research and Statistics for the Federal Reserve, published a meta-analysis in 2006, examining over 100 studies into the minimum wage. According to Neumark and Wascher, the papers they viewed “as providing the most credible evidence, almost all point to negative employment effects.”
Conservative economist Walter Williams has been an outspoken opponent of minimum wage increases, specifically citing their negative impact on African-American youth employment. In an interview with the MRC’s Business and Media Institute, Dr. Williams said regulations like minimum wage laws “cut off the bottom rung,” preventing low-skilled workers from finding employment.
Minimum wage hikes also raise the cost of consumer goods, like food. The Cato Institute’s Mark Wilson wrote in a 2012 policy analysis that “If a minimum wage is partly or fully passed through to consumers in the form of higher prices, it will hurt the poor because they disproportionately suffer from price inflation.” He cited a 2004 study by Sara Lemos of the German Institute for the Study of Labor who said “higher prices is an obvious response to the minimum wage increase.”
Academic research also indicates that wage hikes do little, if anything, to reduce poverty. In 2013, the Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk cited multiple studies which “find no correlation between higher minimum wages and lower poverty.” He explained this somewhat counter-intuitive notion, in part on minimum wage laws’ negative impact on employment.
In spite of evidence, the networks have often promoted minimum wage hikes, just as they did in response to President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address and a series of fast-food worker strikes in August 2013.