“Job Killer” Bills Dead on Arrival

Thursday, June 21, 2012

In April, the California Chamber of Commerce published a list of 24 bills it and other business groups deemed “job killers.” They included Senate Bill 1528, which would roll back a Supreme Court decision limiting medical liability lawsuit claims, and a host of proposals that deal with “unnecessary regulations,” workplace mandates and other “barriers to economic recovery.”

The chamber probably needn’t worry. Only five bills on the chamber’s 30-bill list made it to the governor last year and he vetoed all but one of them. Although the GOP is a distinct minority in the Legislature, this year’s batch of bills, all of them introduced by Democrats, will likely suffer a similar fate.    

The first known use of the term “job killer” in a newspaper nationally may have been a 1922 Los Angeles Times headline about the wrong type of corporate boss: “Description of an Efficient Job Killer.” It has been evoked sporadically ever since in the service of various causes, but has in modern times become the epithet of choice by defenders of unfettered corporate and business activity.

A study out of the University of Northern Iowa makes the case that the expression, at least since 1984, has been inappropriately applied. Analyzing 381 “job killer” stories that were published by the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press, the study concluded that fewer than 10% justified use of the term, which was often contained in a source’s quote.

“The news media's chronic lack of fact-checking has only encouraged ramped up use of the ‘job killer’ allegation as a political strategy against the Democrats in recent years,” the study says. Although the expression is a favorite of Republicans, Democrats have recently found it a handy way to describe GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s activities as CEO at Bain Financial.

But President Barak Obama’s election has overwhelmingly supplied the impetus for “job killers” use. It was used 16 times during the first three years of President George W. Bush’s administration and 201 times during the first three years of Obama’s.

The Wall Street Journal was the most likely to use “job killer” as conventional wisdom with no attribution. The media failed to cite any evidence for a claim that a government policy was or would be a “job killer” or quote an authoritative source with any evidence for this claim in 91% of the stories making the allegation.

The study found no correlation between use of the expression and the unemployment rate, although a correspondence with the electoral cycle was evident. And the ripple effect from these four media was huge, with a single 2010 Associated Press story about Republicans criticizing a “job killing” bill generating 12,800 web publication uses.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

California Chamber Targets 23 “Job Killer” Bills (by Dan Walters, Sacramento Bee)

California Lawyers Fight Back on “Job Killer” Label with Study (by Dan Walters, Sacramento Bee)

Study: 'Job Killer' Claims Usually Go Unsubstantiated (by Arthur Delaney, California Progress Report)

“Job Killers” in the News: Allegations without Verification (University of Northern Iowa)

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