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Events of note in the world of strategic framing and communications – from the Topos perspective

Basic Spending In the News

Spending on the Basics for a Strong Economy

We like reading well-framed articles about the economy and jobs that pay enough for a strong economy.

Storified by · Thu, Nov 01 2012 15:11:31


Earlier this week, we read two articles about the economy that focus on the importance of making sure jobs pay enough for people to maintain “Basic Spending” levels.  Both use familiar, common sense framing — that works to build broad support for policies like higher wages and better benefits.

The narrative of these articles illustrates this important idea:

Many companies like to pay as little as they can get away with, but if people can’t maintain basic spending levels – on things like food, getting things repaired, etc. – then the entire economy suffers. And that’s exactly what is happening. Policies that restore the wage and benefits floor and restore basic spending will help the economy. For example, we can increase the minimum wage, or increase job security by requiring that every worker gets some paid sick days.

The first article, in the New York Times, vividly describes employers choosing to hire more part-time employees, rather than giving more hours (and income) to existing employees.

Some employers even ask workers to come in at the last minute, and the workers risk losing their jobs or being assigned fewer hours in the future if they are unavailable.

The widening use of part-timers has been a bane to many workers, pushing many into poverty and forcing some onto food stamps and Medicaid. And with work schedules that change week to week, workers can find it hard to arrange child care, attend college or hold a second job, according to interviews with more than 40 part-time workers.

A Part-Time Life, as Hours Shrink and Shift for … – The New York Times2 days ago … But in one crucial respect, Fresh & Easy is just like the vast majority of large American retailers: most employees …

The second article, in the online journal Next American City, describes actions of WalMart and restaurant employees who are working together so they speak with a more powerful voice when they seek a higher floor for wages and benefits.

Across the country, one out of every four jobs now pays less than $10 an hour and are largely concentrated in these traditionally low-paying sectors, according to a recent study by the National Employment Law Project. These sectors are growing faster than overall employment in the U.S., and the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the next decade will bring more of the same.


Organizers with ROC [Restaurant Opportunities Center], OUR Walmart and other non-traditional labor organizations hope that successes across a significant segment of this workforce could prompt wages and standards in all low-wage industries to rise. “The restaurant industry shares a very similar low-income strategy with Wal-Mart,” says Sheila Maddali, Research and Policy Coordinator for Philadelphia ROC. “Our goal is to raise standards across the restaurant industry—which comprises 47% of the low wage workforce—which would then raise standards in other low wage industries.”

If ROC and its allies succeed in raising employment standards in the service sector, the benefits will extend beyond those directly affected workers to the cities they call home. Higher incomes will mean more tax revenue and higher rates of home ownership. Better working conditions will mean fewer parents who can’t attend teacher conferences and more who can take the time to take part in the neighborhood groups that keep city blocks thriving.

“Raising wages in these sectors is one of the most important things we can do to increase quality of life in these cities.” 

The Urban Implications of the Walmart Strikers – Next American CityOct 22, 2012 … Retailers and restaurants employ huge numbers of urban Americans. If the Walmart strikers signify the start of a movem…

Talking About Talking About Poverty

Writing in The Nation, reporter Greg Kaufmann updates readers on the national campaign to include discussion of poverty policy in the Presidential debates. He interviewed Topos Senior Fellow Margy Waller about reframing the public dialogue.

Waller said research suggests that the way we usually talk about poverty—even using the words “poverty” and “welfare” themselves—“makes most people think about people who don’t work, and bad personal choices, and irresponsibility. People’s beliefs are now so hardened in that stereotype, it’s very hard to overcome even with evidence that says otherwise.”

She believes Obama is on the right track by offering “a new narrative that wakes people up and enables them to listen.”

“He’s talking about how we create an economy that is good for everyone,” said Waller. “It opens the door to focusing on the role of government policy in addressing issues like wage stagnation, and maintaining a wage and benefit floor for good jobs. It points to how we are all better off when everyone is contributing to our economy and civic life, and we have jobs in our local communities that are family-supporting.”

Read the whole column here.

Eyes, Weeds and Big Bird: What Will Happen Thursday?

The frenzy of commentary following last week’s presidential debate shape up to three broad takeaways, all with framing implications.

Eyes:  Everyone noticed stylistic differences between the two candidates. Governor Romney seemed high energy and was looking at the camera, the President, and the moderator most of the time. President Obama spent more time looking down, something picked up by the writers for Saturday Night Live. (You knew it would happen.) These differences left many with the impression that Romney was more engaged, interested and confident than the President. We were all reminded that it’s not just the message, the messenger (and presentation style) matters too.

Weeds:  Despite a few notable attempts at memorable terms (trickle down government, economy tax), many commentators noted that both of the debaters went deep into the weeds about the issues – particularly when it came to taxes and deficit reduction. Frankly, there were a lot of numbers and that got hard to follow, not to mention ~ boring. (President Clinton does it much better.)  President Obama spent a lot of time focused on arguing the facts about Romney’s proposals without changing the frame. Facts vs. facts in your opponent’s frame will not change minds. Moreover, the debate focus on taxes reinforced a favorite conservative theme: cutting taxes is the best solution to budget problems. Maintaining this focus meant Obama missed a couple open invitations to shift the conversation to jobs.

Big Bird: A substantive takeaway – both serious and humorous – was Governor Romney’s threat to kill Big Bird (and to fire Jim Lehrer sitting right in front of him!) by eliminating funding for public television.

But Romney wasn’t really attacking Big Bird. He was making a point about his view on the role of government. When proponents of small government attack public funding of arts + culture, they do so understanding that they are tapping into a widely held default belief that the arts are a private matter and a low public priority.  (For more on this, see our research and recommendations for advocates of broad public support of the arts.) We’re not sure why Romney chose such a popular example though. And we’re watching to see how that turns out!

Big Bird was the enduring meme of the debate (as we kinda predicted!) and launched a flurry of funny commentary. We added one of our favs above.

The Twitterverse identified all these points real-time during the debate, along with insights about social math, sticky terms, and framing decisions.

What will happen tomorrow?  Join us on Twitter as we watch and learn together.