Accuracy in Media

Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) took to Twitter on Thursday after Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler gave her three Pinocchios for her false claim about Americans not being able to earn a living wage.

This is a summary of what Kessler wrote about Ocasio-Cortez:

“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.”

— Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), in an interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates at Riverside Church, Jan. 21, 2019

Kessler did not take issue with Ocasio-Cortez’s fight for income equality but said that sometimes she is “fast and loose with her facts.”

The main problem with Ocasio-Cortez’s statement is where she hits Walmart and Amazon for not paying a minimum wage, which Kessler points out is incorrect.

As of Nov. 1, Amazon pays at least $15 an hour to its hourly workers — even more in other places — and, in fact, supports efforts to raise the minimum wage. When Amazon made the announcement that it was raising wages, it even earned kudos from a longtime critic, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

At Walmart, entry-level workers earn at least $11. Total compensation for those workers, including benefits, a discount on Walmart purchases, health care and 401(k) contributions bring that figure to $17.50 an hour, according to Walmart spokesman Kory Lundberg.

Then there’s the wealth transfer aspect of her statement according to the Post.

Even if Ocasio-Cortez were right about the minimum wage, her contention that those companies are benefiting from a wealth transfer is dubious. 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.

Those misstatements of fact were enough for Kessler to give Ocasio-Cortez three Pinocchios.

Ocasio-Cortez deserves credit for using her high profile to bring attention to income inequality. However, she undermines her message when she plays fast and loose with statistics. A lot of Americans do not earn enough for a living wage, but we cannot find evidence that it is the majority. Amazon and Walmart pay well above the minimum wage, contrary to her statement, and it is tendentious to claim those companies get some sort of a wealth transfer from the public when such benefits flow to all low-wage workers in many companies. Overall, she earns Three Pinocchios.

Normally Kessler’s fact-checks attract little or no blowback from the awardees, but it was very different with Ocasio-Cortez who tried to blunt the criticism with some misguided criticism of Kessler.

Ocasio-Cortez was wrong again in going after Furman since he wrote his piece for the Center for American Politics, a far-left organization.  Kessler linked to the Furman article–which was also published on the Libertarian think tank Mackinac Center’s website –because the article is hard to find on the CAP site which Ocasio-Cortez failed to note along with Furman’s progressive economic credentials.

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