Amid reports about Wal-Mart's renewed effort to move back into Chicago, editorial boards and local media figures resorted to a familiar refrain: that people in low-income communities should simply be grateful for any new jobs. Ald. Howard Brookins Jr. (21st Ward) has also ...
Amid reports about Wal-Mart's renewed effort to move back into Chicago, editorial boards and local media figures resorted to a familiar refrain: that people in low-income communities should simply be grateful for any new jobs. Ald. Howard Brookins Jr. (21st Ward) has also pushed the argument that Wal-Mart's poverty wages are perfectly sufficient, despite the fact that he is one of several aldermen who refused to take unpaid furlough days from his $110,000 (part-time) job, claiming at the time: "I can't afford it." The hypocrisy is staggering. But don't hold your breath waiting for the local media call him out on it.
Just as the debate resumes over whether to allow Wal-Mart to expand in the city, the Grassroots Collaborative has released an analysis (PDF) of newspaper coverage during the thick of the historic big box living wage fight back in 2006. They found that the coverage largely excluded the perspective of people directly impacted by a potential Wal-Mart expansion: politicians and business leaders made up 75 percent of the 380 quotes identified in the study, while community groups and residents had only a 6 percent say. More from the report:
The most frequent frames to characterize the Living Wage debate focused on its potential negative effects. Other common frames discussed the ordinance as a political power-play between city and labor leaders. These frames would leave readers with the impression that the living wage was an idea manufactured and pushed exclusively by union leaders, unsupported by or unimportant to ordinary working people and met with unified predictions of economic doom from the business community and city officials.
As we've pointed out before, the living wage fight isn't is about families' financial security and good public policy. One advocate opposed to Wal-Mart's race to the bottom is the Illinois Hunger Coalition's Diane Doherty. "Too many of our people who are working are hungry," she told us earlier this fall. And as more working-poor people are tipped into government programs, such as food stamps (where enrollment continues to surge) or Medidcaid, taxpayers end up subsidizing Wal-Mart's stinginess.
The report goes on to point out: "A reasonable standard of accuracy also requires that journalists try to report the most important costs and benefits of the policy to advocates, opponents, policy makers and those affected." Let's hope that local mainstream journalists see this an instructive critique.
Full disclosure: The Grassroots Collaborative includes to SEIU Local 73 and SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana. Progress Illinois is sponsored by the SEIU Illinois State Council.