I’m more pissed off about this election than I was a month ago. What we’ve learned recently about what Russia did—not to mention what Mitch McConnell wouldn’t allow our government to do—has pushed my anger to a whole other level. Between Russia, Comey, our media, and mistakes made by the Clinton campaign for starters, there are many factors that contributed to Donald Trump eking out a narrow electoral college majority, even as he lost the popular vote by almost 3 million. All of them make me want to put my fist through a wall. Dry wall works better than brick, if you must try this at home.
One productive thing I can do is talk about what Democrats can learn from this fiasco so that, going forward, we give ourselves the best possible chance of winning elections. It’s not the only thing I want to do, but it is important—along with doing everything we can to resist the attempts by these mandateless Republicans to impose their will on a population, the majority of whom either rejected them or never believed they’d actually do the things, like repeal Obamacare, they all swore they would.
Now on to the aforementioned data. I’m not usually surprised by statistics on race and economics, but what I read this week was eye-opening. It may not have surprised some of you, but for those like me who were, we clearly need to broaden our sources of information if we want to fully understand the American electorate.
Let’s start with the topline stuff. This data, produced by the independent Economic Cycle Research Institute, covers the past nine years since the peak in employment we hit in November 2007, i.e. before the Great Recession. Before I dive in deeper, this sentence from the ECRI’s report sums it up:
Whites actually have fewer jobs than nine years ago, while Hispanics, Blacks and Asians together gained all of the net jobs added, and more.
Now for the details. Whites made up 81 percent of the labor force (that includes employed and unemployed workers) in 2007. Overall, the economy has gained net 9 million jobs from November 2007 to November 2016, but whites experienced a net job reduction of more than 700,000 jobs. During the same period, Asian Americans—5 percent of the work force—gained close to 2.5 million jobs, while black workers, who were 11 percent of the work force, gained a little over 2 million, and Latinos, at 14 percent of the work force, gained almost 5 million net jobs.
If that 81 percent figure seems high, know that for this data ‘white’ includes those who identify as Hispanic by ethnicity, and white by race—the same goes for black and Asian Hispanics. The overwhelming majority (89 percent according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) of Hispanic workers identified as white by race, so the job numbers for non-Hispanic whites would appear to be slightly worse given the job gains among Hispanics overall. As per the BLS, the racial demographics of the work force had shifted only by a percentage point or two from 2007 to 2014.
The data is even more striking when we take age into account. Looking only at those of prime working age—25 to 54 years old—whites suffered a net job loss of 6.5 million. For Latinos, Asians, and blacks in the same age cohort, the net job gains were 3 million, 1.5 million, and 1 million respectively. In fact, those three groups have seen net job gains in every age category since the pre-recession employment peak nine years ago.
Furthermore, taking race and class—measured by educational attainment—into account, ECRI reported in October that “for seven long years, the majority of less-educated non-Hispanic White adults has not been employed.” Given that Democrats’ primary argument to the white working class has long been an economic-centered one, that statistic says a lot about why they voted the way they did in 2016.
ECRI explained the importance of place, and how it affected the data on race and employment:
Part of the reason may be that these jobs, predominantly in services, were created in metropolitan areas, rather than in rural areas and small towns where factories were shuttered as the manufacturing jobs disappeared. There is little reason to expect that those jobs are coming back to those areas away from the urban centers.
Looking at the numbers, metropolitan areas gained jobs over the past nine years, 5 percent more than they had in 2007, while the rest of the country shed 2 percent. In that sense it has been a lost decade for large geographic swaths of the country, in particular rural America—which has seen death rates increasing among rural whites, especially women, with suicide and drug overdose causing just about all the spike among younger people.
All these things connect. They help explain why Trump won enough votes in non-urban parts of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin to put him over the top. Overall, among whites without a college degree, Trump won by 39 points. More importantly, he outperformed Mitt Romney by 14 points among that group, while Hillary gained 10 points among whites with a degree compared to President Obama four years ago. Even if the exit polls are off, they’re not off by enough to undercut what those figures tell us about the white working class vote.
Let’s get one thing straight. This data is not trying to provide support for those who claimed that Latinos specifically or any other group are “taking white people’s jobs,” or any other such racially divisive rhetoric. Furthermore, and I can’t believe I even have to say this, talking about this data does not excuse one iota the race-baiting and fear-mongering in which Trump and his fellow Republicans engaged. Given my track record of published writings going back more than a decade on promoting equality and inclusion, and fighting back against hate, I’d like to think my intentions are clear.
Moreover, this data doesn’t mean that Americans of color are all doing great, or doing better than whites overall, or that we don’t need more investment in urban or metropolitan areas, or that all the jobs gained were good jobs, or anything along those lines. Americans who are not white—especially African Americans—continue to face obstacles because of both active, ongoing discrimination as well as structural racism, in addition to the fact that past discrimination still affects people today, as seen in measures such as household net worth by race, just to name one example.
But the data I’ve cited here does say something important. How voters perceive the job situation for themselves and those around them—and specifically in which direction it has been trending—has a significant impact on the way they vote. What determines their vote? Well, this study done by political scientists at the Washington Post/Monkey Cage found that white racial resentment correlated with support for Trump over Clinton to the same degree as it did with support for John McCain or Romney over Obama in our last two elections.
As for those voters, Democratic campaigns cannot reach out to them as whites specifically without abandoning progressive values—not to mention losing voters, like me, who would rightly recoil from such an approach. We must, however, reach them, and the way to do so, as I’ve written previously, is to focus more on bread and butter economic issues than the Clinton campaign did this past fall—even as we continue to emphasize civil rights. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and.
This set of data on race, place, and jobs is what it is, and shying away from it won’t help progressives. Unfortunately, the Electoral College overweights non-urban voters who are themselves disproportionately white. Additionally, these non-urban areas are the ones where the job situation is worse than the overall average. Our more diverse urban areas—where, to a strong degree, liberal voters have voluntarily sorted themselves in recent decades—cannot on their own elect a president. This sorting, combined with Republicans’ successful—to the degree thwarting the will of voters can be called a success—gerrymandering since 2010 also means Democrats can’t necessarily win a majority in the House of Representatives even when they win a majority of the votes cast in House races nationwide. The same problems exist for Democrats running for state legislatures.
Anyone involved in electoral politics, particularly at the federal level, needs to understand and act on this data—both when planning campaign strategy and when actually governing—in order to win elections. Only by winning can we gain the ability to make a fairer, more just society that both protects equal rights and provides an equal opportunity for all Americans of every background to attain a decent standard of living. That’s the goal we progressives must work together to achieve.
Ian Reifowitz is the author of Obama’s America: A Transformative Vision of Our National Identity (Potomac Books).