Via Margy Waller at Inclusionist, I’ve been reading some reports about the "framing" of low-wage work in the media.

I have to say, I’m sort of dubious.  The media consultants (Douglas Gould and Co) are saying that it’s bad when newspaper articles or magazine reports start off with stories about individuals or families who are struggling to get by.  The argument is that even if the subjects are highly sympathetic, this pushes the reader into a frame of "sympathy for the poor" and they get stuck on the merits (or flaws) of the individual example, rather than looking at the social and economic system that leads to the problem.

Ok, they’re the experts, and this is based on research on the subject.  And I know that when newspapers run these stories about, for example, people who are about to lose their homes because of medical bills, they often get donations for that specific family.  But my question is how many people read the stories — my guess is it’s higher for the ones that start off with the compelling story.  As Gould and co acknowledge, reporters certainly think that it’s better journalism that way, and that more people will read the stories than if they lead with straight economic analysis.  And a story that no one reads doesn’t do you much good, right?

I was also a little dumbfounded by the statement that it’s "highly advantageous" that welfare has essentially disappeared from news stories "as welfare tends to call forth negative stereotypes about low-wage work and workers."  Wow.

I did think that it was interesting that they found that stories about family leave and low wage work were disproportionately likely to be framed as personal rather than as a question of workforce policy.  I’m not sure if this is a statement about the issue per se, or about the lack of specific legislative proposals that encourage the use of a systemic frame.

2 Responses to “Framing”

  1. landismom Says:

    Back around the time that TANF reform passed, I remember reading some study that had been done in the 80s about policy-making directed at the poor, and how racial issues changed the way that people perceived the ‘deservedness’ of the poor in question. The author examined something like 20 years worth of news coverage of anti-poverty policy-making, and concluded that during periods of high unemployment (like the early 70s), when there were lots of articles about unemployed white folks trying to get by on food stamps, the public was generally more favorable to increasing benefits, etc., but that during periods of lower unemployment, when the news coverage focused on black families trying to get by, the public was much more opposed to increases. I wish that I thought that in the 20 years since that study was released, and the present, that we’d figured out better how to frame issues of race and class, but I don’t think we have.

  2. dave s Says:

    Well, here’s one which seems to focus pretty clearly on the question of whether raising the minimum wage wipes out a lot of jobs.
    I see the Times, as is its wont, trying to guide us to its correct answer, though:
    my big criticism here is that it utterly fails to mention what I see as the biggest issue here: is EITC a far more effective way to get money to ‘working poor’ families? And, by doing the article about a border district between Idaho and Washington, it seems that you would force Idaho wages up in a tight labor market, force businesses out of Washington in a loose one, in this area the labor market was tight. What would you see at the border of, say, Arkansas ($6.25) and Mississippi ($5.15)? My guess is that it might run in the other direction – Arkansas people driving to Mississippi for cheap pizzas. At the least, the Times has picked the location most likely to give it the result it wants.
    My own views on minimum wage? I prefer a better targeted intervention, like EITC, which will still let my feckless teens (well, they are not teens yet, but I am damn sure they will be feckless when the time comes!) be worth it to an employer, since their benefit from working is going mostly to be learning to show up and follow procedure, but still finding a way to better reward chicken pluckers in the Delmarva who have families and need a decent income to survive. It (a lower-than-poverty-level) minimum wage functions somewhat like a subsidy for entry level jobs – IF you have something like EITC, which tops it up for those (unlike my kids) who need it.

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