Both posts showed the same tweet, made by user @Aycn on May 30 2023. The text of the tweet read:
[House Speaker Kevin] McCarthy: We might have a child that has no job, no dependents but sitting on the couch, we’re going to encourage that person to get a job and have to go to work, which gives them worth and value.
A chyron and closed captioning were among elements visible in the post to r/lostgeneration (above). The chyron read “McCarthy speaks amid debt ceiling talks,” and its timestamp of 2:08 pm Eastern was close to the tweet’s timestamp (2:19 pm Eastern) — suggesting that the tweet quickly followed an on-air Fox News segment.
On Twitter, video of McCarthy’s comments was attached to the tweet:
The clip’s audio started abruptly (making the first word or two difficult to identify), and McCarthy’s statement was not transcribed in the tweet in its entirety. In the twenty second-long video, McCarthy said:
… for things we bought, that we can return, like Covid money, money to China and others, we’re bringing that back.
We might have a child that has no job, no dependents but sitting on the couch, we’re going to encourage that person to get a job and have to go to work, which gives them worth and value.
We’re gonna look at other things too, to make the economy stronger …
Twitter’s visible statistics indicated @Acyn’s tweet was viewed 9.9 million times as of May 31 2023, but a search for the phrasing of one video-only headline returned just 36 results. We viewed McCarthy (@SpeakerMcCarthy)’s “with replies” timeline for a clarification of the statement, but none appeared.
On May 31 2023, McCarthy tweeted about the “debt ceiling deal,” reiterating his focus on cuts to social safety net programs. In that tweet, McCarthy referenced “single work-capable adults,” a possible attempt at clarifying his statement in the viral video and tweet:
A May 31 2023 The Independent article, “Anti-poverty groups and progressives blast work requirements for aid to poor Americans in debt ceiling deal,” featured the following caption: “Kevin McCarthy suggests children should ‘get a job’ to give them ‘worth and value.'” However, the article itself made no mention whatsoever of McCarthy’s remarks, reporting in part:
Most Americans with low or no incomes who qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) must comply with certain work requirements to be eligible to receive funds to help pay for groceries. But under a deal struck between President Joe Biden and Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, adults up to age 54 would be required to show proof of work.
Republican lawmakers have pushed for years to expand those work requirements, but anti-poverty advocacy groups and progressives have argued that adding any such limitations to critical aid will only deepen hunger and poverty in the US, pointing to Congress’ own research showing that work requirements don’t appear to have any measurable effect on employment.
A May 31 2023 editorial by CurrentAffairs.org, “Of Course We Should All be Working Less,” paraphrased McCarthy’s remarks in a broader exploration of Americans’ relationship with work:
… because work is made into a thing which makes us deserving of survival, we demonize those who cannot or simply don’t work outside the home. Look at the GOP-backed public benefit work requirements. “I don’t think it’s right that we … pay somebody who has no dependents, able-bodied to sit on a couch,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said, evoking stereotypes of poor people as lazy—or as being poor because they are lazy. (Of course, work requirements simply serve as an administrative burden to make it as difficult as possible for people to get benefits, especially parents or caregivers who are working inside the home, just not for any pay. The new debt ceiling deal includes work requirements for food stamps but not Medicaid.) McCarthy added that work gives a person “worth and value.” This is, of course, a pernicious lie, as work may indeed be valuable to society and individuals, but we all have intrinsic value as people regardless of work.
The New Republic published “Kevin McCarthy: We’re Putting Work Requirements on … Kids?” on May 31 2023, directly querying McCarthy’s odd failure to clarify his statement about a “child … with no job.” After speculating “McCarthy was referring to individuals above the age of 18 who may be living with their families,” the article continued:
It’s unclear what exactly McCarthy is referring to in his remarks. The debt deal proposes imposing new work requirements for food assistance, or SNAP, on childless adults aged 54 and younger—raising the current maximum age of 49. The bill also lowers the percentage of people states can exempt from work requirements for SNAP. But all homeless people, veterans, and young people aging out of foster care will be exempt from the requirements. There’s not much else the bill does to target “children” sitting on their parents’ couches.
All that is to say, McCarthy is doing his routes on the TV news circuit, boasting about putting work requirements on “children,” all while actually not doing so at all. He’s reminding the country of Republicans’ desire to turn kids into laborers, and also misleading conservatives who actually do want such work requirements.
Broadly, McCarthy’s remarks about work requirements for children began and ended with the very short video @Acyn shared. The New Republic embedded a different May 30 2023 tweet by journalist Aaron Rupar — in which McCarthy once again referenced a child “with no job”:
Rupar’s tweet was published earlier in the day on May 30 2023, and was not as widely viewed as @Acyn’s subsequent tweet. Initially, @Acyn’s tweet appeared to represent an instance of McCarthy misspeaking, conflating cuts to programs for American children with separate efforts to attach work requirements to government assistance.
In fact, the second reply under @Acyn’s viral tweet claimed that McCarthy “obviously” misspoke, criticized Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) for sharing it, and tagged a parody account targeting Ocasio-Cortez:
If McCarthy’s “child … with no job” comments were made in error, it was an error that McCarthy appeared to make twice — in the same context, on the same day, on the same network (Fox News). In Rupar’s video, McCarthy was seated in a studio, and he said:
… but we also did something different in this family. We may have a child that, uh, able-bodied, not married, no kids, but he’s sitting on the couch collecting welfare [laugh].
We’re gonna put [laughs] work requirements on that individual, so he’s gonna have work requirements — he’s gonna get a job! And it’s gonna make their life easier.
A May 30 2023 tweet with video of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy went viral. Speaker McCarthy was depicted saying “a child that has no job … we’re going to encourage that person to get a job and have to go to work,” a comment described as a “Freudian slip” or “saying the quiet part out loud.” Screenshots shared to Reddit did not include the audio of McCarthy’s statements, which were accurately described.
McCarthy’s viral statements about forcing “a child that has no job” to “get a job and have to go to work” appeared on first glance to be an obvious “gotcha,” seizing on a misstatement McCarthy made in a crush of reporters on Capitol Hill. That particular interpretation was significantly less plausible when contrasted with McCarthy’s appearance on Fox News on the morning of May 30 2023, when he again said a “child … sitting on the couch collecting welfare” would “get a job” due to novel “work requirements” attached to McCarthy’s debt ceiling deal.