What the Mainstream Media Overlooks in the “Sunny” New Employment Figures

“The lowest unemployment rate in a half century,” an AP story in the New York Times announced on May 3, after the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly jobs report.

“I’ll be running on the economy,” said President Donald Trump, regarding his plans for the 2020 presidential campaign. “And why wouldn’t he?” the AP story replied. The report argued the “sunny employment figures offered fresh evidence of a strong national economy.”

It was the same story across the rest of the mainstream media. For example, ABC News heralded a “booming jobs market,” CNN said “this is as good as it gets in the labor market,” USA Today concluded “it would be hard to ask for a more favorable report.” and NBC stated “for graduating [college] seniors, the timing could not be better.”

Yet, can anyone really say that this is a shining economy when nearly 80 percent of workers live paycheck-to-paycheck and that 4 in 10 workers don’t have the funds to cover a $400 emergency expense? (The mainstream media gave us those two stories as well, but they fail to connect the dots when reporting on the larger economy.)

1In the wave of stories on the recent jobs report, much of the mainstream media, with its institutional eye on upscale readers and viewers, has again miserably failed to account for the condition of America’s vast working class majority. As I explain in my new book, No Longer Newsworthy: How the Mainstream Media Abandoned the Working Class, since the late 1960s and early 1970s the mainstream news media have been targeting an upscale audience, essentially redlining off the working-class news audience. This might have made business sense to executives running increasingly consolidated news corporations traded on Wall Street – let’s go for the upscale demographics! – but in the long term it put blinders on the editorial eyes of much of the country’s journalism organizations.

Case in point: the New York Times. An analysis of the jobs report by one of its economics writers began by noting “For years it was the central question in an otherwise impressive recovery by the American job market: Why aren’t wages rising faster?”

The article said that “Economists proposed all sorts of theories to explain the mystery” of stagnant worker pay, and among the grab bag of theories is “falling rates of unionization.” But that was not the answer in this story, despite substantial evidence.

Instead, he concluded, the reason for the long recovery in wages is that the official government unemployment rate doesn’t account for other potential workers on the sidelines who might be willing to get back into the economy. Thus, wages can only go up when unemployment is extremely low and demand for workers puts upward pressure on wages. This is finally happening, the author said, almost 10 years after the recession. (Hooray for workers! And take note: these economic rules don’t seem to apply to executive-level compensation.)

Of course, in this view, workers have no agency. They are merely captives of the “natural” laws of economics. Never mind that the past four decades of low wages has been made possible by a concerted effort to put private and public labor unions asunder, cripple fair enforcement of labor law, deprive workers of earned overtime wages, push medical care expenses onto workers or eliminate medical insurance all together, and enable corporations to raid pension funds – all while Wall Street and corporate profits achieved ever-higher records.

More than four decades ago, the mainstream news media began to transform its audience and its stories. Labor unions and the working class shifted from normal, respected subjects in journalism’s coverage to abnormal, misunderstood, and mostly invisible subjects. This shift resulted in our current media landscape: labor reporters are nearly gone, economic reporters hail the record-breaking economy, and political reporters wonder why the working class seems so angry.


 

Christopher R. Martin is Professor of Digital Journalism at the University of Northern Iowa. He is also author of an award-winning book on how labor unions are covered in the news media, Framed! Labor and the Corporate Media (Cornell University Press).


Also of interest:

Listen to Jonathan Hall, in an interview with Professor Christopher R. Martin, here.

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What the Mainstream Media Overlooks in the “Sunny” New Employment Figures

Is tourism a devil’s bargain? Histories and Cultures of Tourism

Tourist season is underway in the northern hemisphere. Scenic towns are filling with visitors, business owners are crossing fingers in hope of massive earnings, and anxious travelers are Googling what to see, where to stay, and what to eat. According to the UN World Tourism Organization, in 2016 there were 1.2 billion international tourist arrivals. Industry watchers are used to seeing growth; they’ve seen little else since the end of World War II. Projections call for much more.

But there is a cost. The sizzling hot summer of 2017 was notable for many things, one of the more striking being the number of news stories recounting communities pushing back against the very tourists who fuel their economies. The BBC reported Spanish leftists sprawled “tourists go home” on buildings and that locals in Lavertezzo, Switzerland, lamented tourists “turning their idyllic valley into “an open air toilet.” The Scotsman suggested that Edinburgh was “losing its soul” to tourism and The Sun cried “boozy Brits are turning Croatian resorts into holiday hellholes.”

There are many different historical questions packed into these two sides of the same coin.  Why are so many people traveling? What attracts them to some sites/sights and not others? How has tourism shaped the environment? Is tourism truly a devil’s bargain? Can leisure travel really shape identities? And of course, there’s a host of queries about politics and policies too.

Tourism history is a comparatively new field of study, but it has gone from strength-to-strength in the past two decades. Historians have reflected on many of the questions above and they’ve uncovered a host of fascinating and often unexpected answers. For example, during the Interwar governments representing nearly every political ideology utilized tourism to various ends. It made better Nazis, promised healthier Soviet workers, and showcased the value of capitalism even in the face of economic turmoil. After the American Civil War, promotion of leisure travel represented a way of forging something approaching a unified national identity. Citizens were told to “see Europe if you must, but see America first.” The national parks, important signifiers of American identity, were a consequence. Much earlier, in the eighteenth century­—when many historians believe tourism was born—, the agonizing conflict over whether tourists represent a good thing or a bad has its roots. Wealthy young men, later to be known as teenagers, were meant to travel around Europe learning languages and good taste. They were supposed to gain cultural capital and a sense of themselves as members of the elite. Sometimes, as with historian Edward Gibbon, the results were positive. More often, the nascent tourists drank to excess, spent trunks of money, engaged the services of prostitutes, and generally behaved badly. Instead of much improved young adults, parents got back wildly gesticulating youngsters prone to speaking with their hands and using exaggerated foreign accents. It was embarrassing. A hearty ongoing debate about the merits of tourism resulted.

To explore the history of tourism is to study a topic that is itself fascinating but also to find a fruitful way of examining just about any subject from a new angle, while at the same time uncovering unexpected connections and relationships. You would not necessarily think of tourism as an important foundation of postwar youth culture, but that is exactly what a recent book suggests. That many of us enjoy visiting mountains and beaches seems almost human nature, but it is more accurately seen in connection with early tourism. You need to learn to interpret a landscape and the language is historically contingent.

As it stands, we know quite a bit, but there is far more to learn. For this reason, Cornell University Press is launching a new book series—Histories and Cultures of Tourism—and I am thrilled to be its editor. We’re anxious to publish the very best tourism history scholarship, keen to showcase intelligent storytelling. It will be a very exciting trip.

 

tourism polygon logo

 

About the author of this blog post: Eric G. E. Zuelow is chair of the Department of History and Philosophy at the University of New England. He is author of A History of Modern Tourism (Palgrave, 2015) and Making Ireland Irish: Tourism and National Identity since the Irish Civil War (Syracuse University Press, 2009). Zuelow is general editor of the Journal of Tourism History and will be editor of the new Cornell University Press book series Histories and Cultures of Tourism.

Is tourism a devil’s bargain? Histories and Cultures of Tourism

Your Job or Your Water: Watersheds amid the “Economy Vs. Environment” Conflict

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Lake Tear in the Clouds, Hudson River headwaters

The need for improved water resource protection is urgent, yet land-use activities increasingly imperil our water supplies. With that in mind, we’re excited to present the final installment of a three-part blog series, “Watershed Paths to Water Protection,” on citizen stewardship of water resources by Karen Schneller-McDonald, author of Connecting the Drops: A Citizens’ Guide to Protecting Water Resources.

We’ve all heard the message: Natural resource protection (including regulations) raises taxes, costs jobs, and discourages economic growth. Environmental degradation may be the price you have to pay to retain your job and standard of living.

In this series, we’ve had a look at watershed science, community partnerships, and watershed groups and their goals: clean drinking water, reduced flooding, healthy ecosystems. A major obstacle to achieving these goals, no matter where we live, is the “environment vs. economy” argument framed as a zero-sum choice. Continue reading “Your Job or Your Water: Watersheds amid the “Economy Vs. Environment” Conflict”

Your Job or Your Water: Watersheds amid the “Economy Vs. Environment” Conflict