News You Can't Use: ABC and Your 401K

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News You Can't Use: ABC and Your 401K

It would be strange for a news outlet to tell you that a story they're about to report isn't designed for a viewer like you. But maybe it'd be just as weird to pretend that it did mean something to you when it obviously does not. 

Take this ABC World News report (2/3/14) about the stock market. The news is that the market is down a little this year, after having a rather strong 2013. That in itself isn't all that revealing. But ABC had to try and make it seem like this matters to you, so they decided to adopt a favorite trick: What this is doing to your 401k retirement fund?

ABC business correspondent Rebecca Jarvis joined the show  

The average American family's 401 (k) hit hard. Now down as much as 5.8 percent this year. Which means that typical nest egg of over $100,000 has lost almost $6,000 in just is last month alone.

Besides stating the obvious–a 6 percent drop is about a 6 percent drop, it turns out–the real question is: Does this sound like a typical family's nest egg?  

No. Most workers don't have a 401k at all, so hearing about a slight drop in the stock index means nothing to them. So ABC's "typical family" isn't so typical at all.  But ABC has a hard time sorting out reality. The report references a retired couple watching the market–and because of the recent downturn, Jarvis explains, "now they join nearly 80 million boomers facing an uncertain future." 

Is any of this typical? It wouldn't appear so. One estimate is that the median worker 10 years from retirement has saved about $12,000. 

To make matters even more confusing, Jarvis closes the report by noting, accurately, that one down month hardly compares with the market's performance in 2013: "Last year, stocks were up record highs, up 30 percent for the year." That context is a bit like saying, "Never mind the rest of this report." So the news is that there's not much news for those who have retirement accounts. And for the majority of workers who have none of this? Well, who knows–maybe there'll be a story that relates to your life later on in the newscast.

Peter Hart

Peter Hart is the activism director at FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting). He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra, and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly" (Seven Stories Press, 2003).

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