We all know that the recovery since the Great Recession has been highly skewed. But has it hurt whites more than blacks and Hispanics, thereby explaining Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election?
That’s the story being told by Eduardo Porter (here and here), relying on data from the Economic Cycle Research Institute (pdf). Their basic argument is that, of the millions of net new jobs created since the pre-recession highwater mark of November 2007, most of them went to black and Hispanic (and Asian) workers, not to white workers (who make up the majority of the workforce).
The numbers are correct—but their analysis is seriously incomplete.
According to the numbers that serve as the basis of ECRI analysis (and which are represented in the chart above), about 5.5 million more workers are employed now compared to nine years ago (the purple line)—including 4.9 million more Hispanic (green line) and 2.3 million more African American (blue line) workers but 722 thousand fewer white (red line) workers.*
It comes as no surprise that those different job trajectories are reflected in the different trajectories of the employment-population ratio. Whereas the overall ratio and the ratio for whites have barely changed (at 59 and 60 percent, respectively) since the recession ended, the other ratios have in fact changed—rising for both Hispanics (from 59.3 to 62.2) and blacks (from 52.9 to 56.6).
So, there are differences in job growth, a large part of which can be accounted for by different regional growth patterns (large cities vs. small towns and rural areas), sectoral shifts (services vs. industrial production), and demographic profiles (both the proportion of the working-age population and retirement rates).
However, in every other way, the different groups within the American working-class have moved in tandem.
For example, the labor-force-participation rate has declined over the past nine years—in general and for each subgroup, white, black, and Hispanic—and remains now just above record lows.
Unemployment rates have also moved in the same direction—first rising dramatically after the crash and then falling during the recovery (but still remaining above what they were before the crash).
Meanwhile, workers’ wages have barely budged—overall and for whites, blacks, and Hispanics—between the fourth quarter of 2007 and the third quarter of 2016.
The folks at the Center for Economic and Policy Research get it:
Porter is right in seeing support for Trump as being to a substantial extent a response to bad economic prospects. But the economic prospects of working class whites in the last decade were not notably worse than the prospects of working class blacks.
And, I would add, all the other groups that make up the American working-class.
The fact is, all members of the working-class—white, black, and Hispanic—have been victimized during the Second Great Depression. As I have shown elsewhere (e.g., here and here), as a class, they’ve fallen further and further behind the tiny group of employers and wealthy individuals at the top. That’s the real skewed nature of the economic recovery.
As I see it, the difference in their political allegiances and voting patterns cannot then be explained by white workers losing out to black and Hispanic workers. It’s due, instead, to the fact that one group that has been left behind (working-class whites) threw in their lot with one candidate (right-wing, white-nationalist Trump)—while other members of the working-class (blacks and Hispanics), who have been equally left behind, simply could not.
And, soon, all of them will discover Trump’s promises were no more than dog-whistle politics and his economic program will leave them even further behind.
*The numbers don’t sum correctly (even without including Asian workers) because white Hispanics may be double-counted as both white and Hispanic, and black Hispanics may be double-counted as both black and Hispanic.