Back on the campaign trail, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez often played naive when one of her gaffes was brought to light or challenged. Now with her newfound confidence as Representative she’s firing back against the fact checkers… with limited success.
Cortez thinks that the Washington Post’s fact-checkers have a vendetta against her, which is ironic considering that for every claim of hers they’ve fact-checked, the Post has analyzed thousands of claims from President Trump (many of which are nitpicking, such as “debunking” Trump’s hyperbolic claim that the thousand McDonalds hamburgers he purchased for the Clemson Tigers would stack a mile high).
Earlier in the month, Cortez fired back at the Post after they debunked her claim that the Pentagon had wasted over $21 trillion dollars – which is a greater figure than the cumulative defense budget since the founding of our Republic. Cortez responded not by challenging the correction but blasting the Post for not spending their time fact-checking Trump instead. At the time, the post had fact-checked 7,645 Trump claims, and Cortez twice. Cortez’s impossible Pentagon claim remains up on her twitter despite being mathematically impossible.
Another Day, Another Falsehood
The latest obviously-bogus Cortez claim that she’s attempting to defend is in regards to a living wage. Speaking to Ta-Nehisi Coates at Riverside Church earlier in the week, Cortez said that “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.”
The Post’s Glenn Kessler challenged the claim, first by addressing the statement that a majority of American doesn’t earn a living wage (which is interesting given the amount of living that seems to be going on right now).
- In support of her statement, Ocasio-Cortez’s office first sent an article [to the Post], based on a United Way study, that said that nearly 51 million households — or 43 percent of households — “don’t earn enough to afford a monthly budget that includes housing, food, child care, health care, transportation and a cell phone.” That’s certainly a lot, but not a majority, let alone a “vast majority.”
- The MIT Living Wage calculator says the living wage in the United States was $16.07 per hour in 2017, before taxes, for a family of four (two working adults, two children). Ryan Nunn, an economics fellow at the Brookings Institution, has tracked the hourly wage distribution of full-time workers. He found that 67.7 percent of full-time workers earn at least $16.07 per hour, 61.9 percent of all workers (i.e., full-time and part-time) earn $16.07 per hour or more, and the median hourly wage for full-time workers is $21 per hour, and the median hourly wage for all workers is $19.60 per hour. In other words, about 32 to 38 percent of workers earn less than $16.07. That’s below the 43 percent estimate in the United Way report.
And note that this is before any transfer payments that workers receive from the government.
While I personally disagree, Kessler actually did rank Cortez’s statement that “I think it’s wrong you can work 100 hours and not feed your kids” are true, because a single mom with two children earning $7.25 an hour actually would have to work over 100 hours a week to earn a living wage. But remember, that’s not including any transfer payments (and child support payments) a single mom would unquestionably receive, and few people are actually in such a situation to begin with.
In 2015, only 11 percent of (working age) people in poverty worked full time. By contrast, 63 percent of those in poverty don’t work at all. Of full time workers in America, only 2 percent live in poverty (compared to 32 percent of the unemployed). If we look at those with families, the numbers become even more stark. For instance, in 2011 only 0.3 percent of families in poverty worked an hourly job earning the minimum wage. Poverty is a work problem, not a wage problem.
The last part of Cortez’s statement, 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” needs some explaining. What Cortez is saying here is that because Walmart doesn’t pay workers a living wage, it’s up to the American taxpayer to subsidize the difference. Of course, Walmart would be paying the same wage independent of whether or not a welfare state exists, so this thought experiment is pointless. Furthermore, in a world where a welfare state does exist, would you rather subsidize someone earning $10 an hour at Walmart or an unemployed person earning $0 an hour? I think it’s obvious which would be cheaper.
Cortez Fights Back
Cortez is fighting back by criticizing one of the studies Kessler cited, even though she literally didn’t even read the first page of it, or accurately figure out who even published it. In the tweet below, Cortez blasts one of Kessler’s citations (the Mackinak Center) as a “Walmart-funded think tank.”
I didn’t mention the study that Cortez is criticizing in my criticisms of her because it’s not needed to debunk her claim – but to give some background, Kessler linked to a 2005 study from professor Jason Furman when talking about Cortez’s claims that businesses that Walmart are recieving a “wealth transfer” from the American public. In the statement “The standard incidence analysis used by the Congressional Budget Office, Joint Committee on Taxation and other researchers 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” Kessler hyperlinks to the Furman study. I’ll note that that entire paragraph could be removed from Kessler’s article and it wouldn’t change his article’s overall thesis.
Contrary to what Cortez says, the study was not “Walmart funded.” While Kessler’s citation linked back to the right-wing Mackinac Center, they were republishing the study (which they did not fund). Furman was the chairman of Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers – and the 2005 study was authored by the left-wing Center for American Progress. Furman says he’s never even heard of the Mackinac Center. Cortez responded by completely ignoring that Kessler is a liberal who worked for Obama.
Regardless of Furman’s background, the fact that his study says on page one that “The author has never received payment from Wal-Mart of any kind” should’ve prevented Cortez from making such a criticism. Then again, I doubt she reads much.