We are hearing it everywhere.  “The economy is doing well.” It’s on CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC and most certainly on FOX. Moderators on presidential debate stages are saying it. While driving my daughter to school, I even heard an NPR reporter talking about the economy with such exuberant rapid heart rate giddiness, I thought it was a commercial for L.A. Fitness.

Low unemployment is good news.  And the stock market humming along is a positive sign.  But there’s a lot more to measuring a nation’s financial health than job numbers and investments.  According to Webster, economy means, “the structure or conditions of economic life in a country, area, or period.” Only 54% of Americans participate in the stock market. And 84% of all the stocks owned by Americans, are in the hands of the top 10%. And so, when news organizations eat up all their air time talking about the NASDAQ, they are willfully avoiding discussions on the conditions of economic life for most Americans.

To make matters worse, when economists, politicians, activists, documentarians, and writers go on television to address poverty, discrimination as related to earnings, and the housing crisis, their assessment and analysis are treated like aberrations. It’s as if they are nuns crashing a frat house and ruining America’s party.

Even people who are highly esteemed professionals in their fields, deal with television hosts or panels of contributors that say with body language, tone, and inflections that these bearers of bad news are interlopers or do-gooders that should not be taken seriously.  Sometimes it’s subtle.  At other times, the host’s antagonistic attitude is so obvious, he or she might as well say, “ok so now to the segment we talk to crazy radical guy who calls himself an economist.”  When you watch as much news as I do, you see it everywhere. And they do it even when there are articles and essays on the network website that back up what the guest is saying.   Here is my interpretation of what I see on TV news shows:

Media: Well, it says here on this official paper coming from a group of officials, a club you’re not a member of, who have the power to declare what is official and what is not. And they say ‘officially speaking’, that we have record low unemployment and everybody’s 401K is kicking ass!  And you say otherwise? Prove it Debby Downer!

Informed Guest: Yes, I agree. We have low unemployment. But those numbers don’t tell you about the conditions of work for most people. People don’t have paid leave to have a baby. They work 2 jobs to pay rent. A cancer diagnosis can lead to bankruptcy. And even Americans earning 6 figures are struggling to pay their children’s college education. 

Media: Eye roll

Informed Guest: And also

Media: BOOOOOOOOOO!

I don’t know when “things are awesome” became the standard when speaking about the economy, and discussions about suffering became the information that needs more and more proof.  But I do know we should not have to put up with it.  None of us would ever accept for example, our child’s report card as legitimate if he or she came home with A’s in English and P.E. but the other classes were left blank. That conversation would be:

Child: Mom I’m an A student! Here look.

Parent: Let me see that. Ok English, great. P.E. good.  What about Math? Science? Music? Spanish? Art? Where are the other grades? WTF is this?

Child: I made all A’s.  I get a treat. You promised!

Parent: I’m calling the school.

Child: Why are you not happy?

Parent: That principal is a hack!

I’m not saying television journalists should downplay news that is truly good.  But they should stop acting so suspiciously toward reputable people who are giving viewers data and stories about our neighbors living in an economy that is not working for everyone.  When TV news journalists act put off, or worse, they become overly concerned with the need to “balance out” the sad story with a story of some guy that made 8 million last year despite his dyslexia,  they hurt Americans. They are not being fair to people who can’t pay their doctor bills or are working 3 jobs.  The experiences of struggling people are diminished because they come across as less serious. And that is journalist neglect.

Folks want to be entertained. They don’t want to feel bad and media executives know it.  However, we have big problems that will fester and lead to more fragmentation and greater economic pain for our citizens. TV journalists need to get comfortable telling us about the downsides to our economy,  or at the very least, they should act less hostile when they have someone on who wants to tell us.

The truth is, our economy is stable. But it’s more like a house with an excellent paint job and a solid roof. The foundation is sound. It’s on a desirable street. It has a state of the art security system. But America’s plumbing is a disaster. Termites are in the basement. The landscaping is trash. And there are hungry children crying in the closets. We can’t look away. But we also can’t accurately look at it, if the media is falling down on the job.

To Follow Up

  1. The Hidden Depression Trump Isn’t Helping by Nicholas Kristof
  2. Almost Half of All Americans Work in Low Wage Jobs by Aimee Picchi
  3. For 53 Million Americans in Low Wage Jobs, A difficult Road Out   Forbes
  4. Even the Insured Can’t Afford Their Medical Bills The Atlantic
  5. Number of Homeless Students Rises to New High. NYTIMES