WaPo 'Fact Checks' Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Living Wage, Eats It

Fresh off determining that Donald Trump has rocketed past the 8,000-lie mark, the Washington Post's fact-check column took a break from its more-than-fulltime job of tracking the prevaricator in chief and looked for someone, anyone, who also is less than truthful, because writing about nothing but Trump can of course make you crazy. Fact Checker Glenn Kessler turned his keen eye to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, because hey, the kids are pretty big on her, aren't they? And darned if he didn't find a statement to fact-check! Except the one area where Kessler did find a shading of the truth was hardly worth a full column, and the thing Kessler proclaimed "off the rails" and worthy of THREE PANDAS ON FIRE PINOCCHIOS was quite frankly not a "lie" at all, but a matter of opinion. So let's all take a quick who checks the fact checkers thing here, or as they say in Latin, twee custodians pissed-off custard.

Here's the AOC statement Kessler addresses, from an interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates about the morality of vast wealth disparities:

I think it's wrong that a vast majority of the country doesn't make a living wage, I think it's wrong that you can work 100 hours and not feed your kids. I think it's wrong that corporations like Walmart and Amazon can get paid by the government, essentially experience a wealth transfer from the public, for paying people less than a minimum wage.

Kessler breaks up the statement into its three main parts and determines that the first part, about the "vast majority" of Americans not being able to make a living wage, is an exaggeration -- we won't get into the weeds on this, but he notes Ocasio-Cortez's office sent him an article from the Post itself about a United Way study that found around 43 percent of American households "don't earn enough to afford a monthly budget that includes housing, food, child care, health care, transportation and a cell phone," and hey, that's less than half.

Kessler also notes the very definition of "living wage" is an inexact concept, pointing out that it's determined by a lot of variables like region and cost of living, and concludes that yeah, a lot of Americans don't make a living wage. But since it's not a "vast majority," Ocasio Cortez pulled a stretcher there.

The numbers are high, but not enough to justify the use of "majority." Ocasio-Cortez would have been fine if she had said "more than a third" or even "almost half." Instead, she said "a vast majority."

The next chunk of the statement, says Kessler, is actually completely true, and if anything, Ocasio-Cortez could have thumped on it harder:

"I think it's wrong that you can work 100 hours and not feed your kids."

Ocasio-Cortez is on the mark — and even undersold the number. "A single-mother with two children earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour needs to work 135 hours per week, nearly the equivalent of working 24 hours per day for 6 days, to earn a living wage," according to [an MIT living wage] calculator.

Then Kessler brings out the big rhetorical guns for the final sentence, because how dare the crazy socialist point out that Amazon and Walmart are subsidized by the gummint to keep their wages (and hence their prices) low-low-low?

"I think it's wrong that corporations like Walmart and Amazon can get paid by the government, essentially experience a wealth transfer from the public, for paying people less than a minimum wage."

Here's where Ocasio-Cortez starts to go off the rails. Both Walmart and Amazon do pay more than the minimum wage. (Disclosure: Jeffrey P. Bezos, Amazon's chief executive, owns The Washington Post.)

Walmart and Amazon both pay more than the minimum wage, Kessler notes, without also pointing out that both companies only raised their starting wages after lots and lots of pressure from the Fight For $15 folks, and don't even get us STARTED on Walmart's cute trick in January when it trumpeted its very limited Tax Cut Bonuses -- the same day it closed a bunch of Sam's Club stores.

Kessler says AOC's office "did not address her flub on the minimum wage" -- but he also doesn't note that she'd have been on far more solid ground had she said the companies don't pay a living wage, which seems more to the point. BUT SHE DIDN'T SAY LIVING SHE SAID MINIMUM. And if a slip of the tongue isn't worth 7 pants-on-fire, we don't know what is!

Princeton history PhD candidate and general socialist troublemaker David Walsh offers a very detailed debunking of Kessler's argument, pointing to articles explaining Amazon's $15/hour minimum wage came at the cost of other benefits, meaning a lot of employees will actually face a net income cut, and more broadly, that Amazon and Walmart both remain vigorously anti-union.

Not to mention the persistent problem of wage theft by big employers -- like Amazon! And Walmart! And fast food joints! -- who get away with making people work off the books, often resulting in sub-minimum real wages.

Then Kessler really goes off the rails on the topic of "wealth transfer." AOC is simply pointing out a thing people have known for years: Walmart and other big employers keep their prices low by paying the least they can get away with, and workers who want healthcare (or even to feed their kids) often end up on Medicaid, or CHIP for their kids, or even food stamps, at least until Republicans can slash social spending even more. For chrissakes, let's not let Kessler forget the annual WALMART EMPLOYEES THANKSGIVING CANNED FOOD DRIVE, or Sherrod Brown's bill to make corporate freeloaders pay the costs of outsourcing employee health care and retirement to the public.

Here's Kessler's "proof" there's no wealth transfer from the public to the corporations:

Economic theory generally assumes all costs and benefits of labor-related taxes and benefits are borne by labor — i.e., the worker, not the employer. So wages would be largely unaffected if taxes went up or public assistance went up. And the worker would still get paid the same, even if they had to carry the burden of new taxes or received enhanced benefits.

Just hold the fuck on here, people all over the Twitters pointed out. We're sorry, but "We have all come to accept that workers and taxpayers will bear the costs of low prices for the sake of big corporate profit" is not really a disproof of the idea that wealth is being transferred. In fact, it's kind of an example of wealth transfer to the rich, "economic theory" or no.

Also too, the paper Kessler links to is a 2005 piece by Jason Furman called "Wal-Mart: A Progressive Success Story," which makes the dubious argument that sure, Walmart and other big box retailers keep their prices low through sub-living wage employee pay, and OK, taxpayers may shoulder the costs of healthcare and other assistance to poverty-wage workers, whose children also have poor health and shitty schools and overall reduced prospects in life. But they can also buy really cheap beach chairs, so it all works out in the end! Hell, as Walsh points out, Barbara Ehrenreich dismantled the notion of Walmart as a "progressive" ANYTHING not long after the article originally ran.

Also too, since when are the economic conclusions of a pre-Great Recession economics paper a "fact," excuse us very much?

Grrr. Again, see the David Walsh thread for a much more detailed argument on Kessler's "fact check," because yeesh, talk about sloppy work. We'll just borrow one last observation from Mr. Walsh about the Big Picture of Kessler's approach, not simply in this one article, but in the overall business of picking nits "evenhandedly":

The problem with this kind of "fact-checking" -- and this is a problem that the mainstream media has across the board -- is that it is literally incapable of distinguishing between demagogic lies like Trump's and broad critiques of existing social systems like AOC's.

Well sure, Dave, but a lot of people think Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a demagogic liar too, so really, it all balances out, doesn't it?

[WaPo / Slate / David Walsh on Twitter]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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