Date on Senior Honors Thesis


Document Type

Senior Honors Thesis

Degree Name




Degree Program

College of Arts and Sciences

Committee Chair

Christopher, Karen

Committee Member

Hall, Ann

Committee Member

Fernandez Morales, Roberto

Author's Keywords

labor shortage; COVID-19; qualitative content analysis; comparative study; political ideology


When workers left the labor market in large numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic, proclamations of a labor shortage emerged extensively throughout the news. In this study, I analyze the coverage of the worker shortage among three news sources with different political orientations. Several themes emerged from analyzing a total of 75 articles. The findings showed that the perspective shown in the article, the cause of the labor shortage, restaurant worker portrayal, support of solutions, and opinion of the labor shortage all differed based on the political identity of the news source. This research supports previous findings that show there is a significantly smaller number of articles written about the struggles of the working class, and more articles written about the struggles of the upper class. This information contributes new information to our knowledge of common media portrayals of social and economic issues. It is concluded that while the liberal and centrist news sources did show empathy towards the worker’s struggle in the labor shortage during COVID-19 and portrayed workers in a positive manner, liberal and centrist news sources rarely used a working-class perspective to look at social problems. Future research composing of a blind study with a larger sample and more expansive timeline is encouraged and further analysis is needed in looking at whom news sources tend to interview the most, as this may affect the portrayal of certain groups.

Lay Summary

When you read a news article, you normally read interviews, opinions, debates, and other accounts of a story. But as news articles often only show one perspective, it can often lead to misrepresentation as another side of the story is left untold. Misrepresentations are both false and may even have consequences for the groups being discussed. Perspectives not only tell one side of a narrative, but they also push a message. These messages can support certain ideologies and values that further influence our way of thinking, our behavior, and our society. This study is designed to find how different politically leaning news sources portray the 2021 restaurant labor shortage and the workers involved. For the methodology, I searched for articles from Fox News, USA Today, and MSNBC that were related to the lack of available workers in the restaurant industry when restaurants opened again after quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic. These articles were analyzed based on specific words and quotes and patterns emerged from each news source. These patterns gave us many findings. It was found that news sources had different perspectives, gave different causes of the labor shortage, portrayed workers differently, gave contrasting solutions, and held separate opinions of the labor shortage. Fox News frequently blamed unemployment benefits, USA Today did not have a noticeable pattern but gave an expansive list of causes, and MSNBC tended to blame low wages. Fox News tended to portray workers negatively, USA Today gave neutral portrayals of workers, and MSNBC mostly portrayed workers in a positive manner. Fox News repeatedly supported the ending of unemployment benefits to incentivize workers to return, USA Today proposed robot and teen labor as an alternative to human labor, and MSNBC supported higher wages. The Fox News articles always gave a negative opinion of the labor shortage, while USA Today and MSNBC mostly portrayed the shortage negatively, a few of their articles unexpectedly supported the labor shortage. Not only does this study give information about how the current COVID-19 related labor shortage and workers are portrayed, but these findings also support former research and contribute to theories on media portrayals of social class, social problems, and their connection to political ideology.