Jul 8 1999

Everyone’s Rich In Media-Land…But You?

The idea that the economy is booming and that the rising tide is lifting all boats is a popular one in the corporate press right now. Money magazine’s May cover story was entitled simply “Everyone’s Getting Rich,” while CNN‘s Talkback Live opened up its June 30 broadcast with this introduction: “Behind the mind-boggling wealth of Bill Gates, there are more billionaires and millionaires than every before, and it might seem as if everyone you know is in on the action. Are you being left behind? If so, how can you get your share? And, when you do, is it going to be enough?”

Newsweek‘s July 5 issue added fuel to the media fire, with the cover story “The Whine of ’99: Everyone’s Getting Rich, But Me.”

But is any of it true? Newsweek‘s piece, a variation on the theme, focused on the frustration felt by people who are rich, but who are unhappy that some others have recently become even richer. If that doesn’t sound familiar to you, perhaps that’s because this rush of new wealth isn’t exactly affecting “everyone.”

Newsweek inadvertently admits their outrageously narrow worldview, when they describe who they mean by Everyone: “Almost half of all people who earn $50,000 or more say they know someone who’s become rich.” If more than half of all people who make $50,000 or more don’t know anyone who’s become rich–along with 71 percent of all people, according to Newsweek‘s online edition–then the number of people who feel that “everyone’s getting rich but me” must be vanishingly small.

It’s not just that the reporters miss the point that it’s generally only people who are themselves rich who know others who get rich, and that there’s certainly nothing “new” in that. The piece is full of myths about wealth, like the notion that nowadays getting rich is a game of chance, due to supposed equalizers like the Internet or the stock market.

Of course, most Americans still rely on their wages for survival–and wages, unlike the stock market, have barely risen in years. Newsweek breezes past such facts:

The income gap remains a thorny problem, but wealth is increasingly spread out as businesses give workers more of a stake. And as everybody starts to pick up his own dot.com business plan, that picks up the pace of innovation.

In the face of such happy hype, it sounds downright curmudgeonly to mention that there’s not more but less “sharing” going on, with the top 1 percent controlling 40 percent of the country’s wealth–more than the bottom 95 percent combined–and CEOs now making 420 times as much as the average worker. Far from getting rich, most Americans have a lower net worth than they did 15 years ago, when the stock market boom began–with the bottom 40 percent losing 80 percent of their wealth.

Real, average workers are so far from Newsweek‘s vision that they actually worry whether all of this Getting Rich Quick might make Americans lose their work ethic, developing “a sense that old fashioned work can be demoralizing.”

One could argue that what’s demoralizing is a national news magazine whose definition of “everyone” excludes the vast majority of the population.

ACTION: Contact Newsweek and let them know that, despite the hype, “Everyone’s Getting Rich” reflects only a tiny segment of American society. Ask that their coverage of economics include the perspectives of middle-income and poor Americans as well.

Contact: letters@newsweek.com

Read the Newsweek article at: www.newsweek.com/nw-srv/issue/01_99b/printed/us/bz/bz0101_1.htm

Read Economic Reporting Review, updated weekly on FAIR’s website, for a critique of the coverage of economic issues in the New York Times and Washington Post.