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Fatih Guvenen on why Trump struck a chord with white working-class males

Fatih Guvenen
University of Minnesota
Fatih Guvenen: “The U.S. economy is growing. But we have a decomposition. Not everyone is getting the benefit. We know where the money goes. It goes to the top 1 or 2 percent. And, more than in the past, the money goes to women.”

This is the third of five pieces in an occasional series, derived from recent interviews with scholars at the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts.

The health of any nation’s democracy can’t be separated too far from the health of the nation’s economy. The United States has been, for a long time, a wealthy nation, but we do have ups and downs and constant tensions over whether our wealth is reasonably well distributed or concentrated too heavily in too few hands.

Economic grievances, well-founded or just widely perceived, are a breeding ground for political turmoil, including in the U.S. election of 2016. White working-class males, who over much of recent history had been part of the Democratic coalition, became one of the key elements of the coalition that elected Donald Trump president, and polling continues to show that they are a key element of his coalition going into 2020. Whether or not Trumpism has really made their lives better, white working-class males remain a key part of his electoral coalition.

As part of a series of interviews I had last summer with University of Minnesota scholars, I asked professor Fatih Guvenen for help in understanding Trump’s appeal to that demographic.


Guvenen, the Curtis L. Carlson Professor of Economics, focuses on issues of income and wealth distribution at a level of granular detail and complexity that will blow your mind, if you let him get rolling, as he did one recent day when I asked him about how changes in wealth, income and even social status help explain how changes in wealth and income patterns have interacted with voting patterns over recent history.

Changes and misunderstandings

“There has been a huge rise in wealth inequality over the past 40 years,” he said, but it is often oversimplified and misunderstood, and both the changes and the misunderstandings can pack a political punch. 

“The U.S. economy is growing. But we have a decomposition. Not everyone is getting the benefit. We know where the money goes. It goes to the top 1 or 2 percent. And, more than in the past, the money goes to women.” He refers here to a decades-long pattern of women entering the workforce, and more recent breakthroughs of women into many high-paying fields formerly dominated by men.

“But the median male, these guys are getting less and less…. Tens of millions of white males are poorer than their fathers were. And they heard nobody [in the political realm] speaking to them or about them.” Guvenen said. “During the same time, by the way, a woman’s lifetime income went up by 60 percent.”

Some Democrats railed against Wall Street and the high pay of CEOs and rising concentration of wealth among the top 1 percent. But the explanation for the decline in the wealth and status of working-class white males wasn’t fundamentally about CEO pay or Wall Street excesses, Guvenen said. 

“If you took all the gains from the 1 percent and distributed it to the whole rest of the population, everyone would get two or three hundred dollars,” he said. “I’m not the friend of the CEOs,” Guvenen said, but their pay was not what was driving the decline in wealth and status of white working-class males.

Promised to bring jobs back

Along came Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again campaign, which referred vaguely back to a time when working-class jobs paid good wages and rising wages, and said that those good jobs had gone away, and, most especially, that Trump was going to bring them back.

Everyone has grievances, and many grievances are linked to a perception that some category that includes them is being discriminated against or is having problems that no one seems to care about, Guvenen said. Immigrants, people of color and other ethnic minorities, women —  these are all groups that have issues that members of those groups think should be attended to. Those grievances and ways to address them are regularly discussed. 

But America’s white working-class males have seen their status and incomes declining. They feel aggrieved about the change in their power and status over recent decades. And they don’t like it. But no one was talking about their grievances. And it is, almost literally, killing them.


He referred me to a famous paper written a few years ago by scholars Ann Case of Princeton and Angus Deaton of USC, which found that life expectancy has been rising for almost all groups across the industrialized world since the 1990s. But the exception has been middle-aged white males in the U.S. with a high school diploma or less.

‘Deaths of despair’

Their life expectancy has been falling, in part by increases in what the paper called “deaths of despair” — death by drugs, alcohol and suicide. Driven by those trends, Case and Deaton found, “mortality rates of whites with no more than a high school degree, which were around 30 percent lower than mortality rates of blacks in 1999, grew to be 30 percent higher than blacks by 2015.”

I asked Guvenen whether he believed Trump’s policy prescriptions were likely to deliver for this group, which did so much to elect him president. He said no. Mostly the policy ideas don’t address the real reasons that certain classes of U.S. jobs have become less remunerative, or have disappeared.

Undocumented immigrants do not work in high-wage factory jobs. So a wall on the border, even if it stopped the traffic, wouldn’t help laid-off factory workers get their high-wage jobs back. “You can find some small examples where someone might get some benefit out of not having to compete with an illegal immigrant for a job. But those instances are small and few compared to the big picture of what is causing those workers to feel downward pressure on their incomes, their status and the quality of life,” Guvenen said.

Far more Americans face job loss or downward pressure on wages for reasons that don’t match up well with Trumpism. For example, said Guvenen:

 “I used to live near Pittsburgh. All those steel mills. Thousands of jobs. Where did those jobs go? Mostly not to China. To automation. To technological change. A few years ago, Blockbuster stores were a huge business that employed tens or even hundreds of thousands of people. There were over 25,000 blockbuster stores in the world. Where did those jobs go? Not to China. Those jobs disappeared” when the DVR technology for watching movies at home became obsolete.

Products made better, cheaper in China

There’s more reality to the Trumpian argument that good-paying U.S. factory jobs, like furniture manufacturing jobs in North Carolina, have migrated to China, Guvenen said. But the reason those jobs migrated is that “in China they make the same thing, better, for a fraction of the price.”

If most economists agree that the Trumpian solutions cannot restore the lost jobs, why has that key white-working-class-male demographic decided that Trump can bring back the “great America” that worked for their fathers?

Said Guvenen: “Suppose somebody has a very dangerous illness that’s going to kill them, and it seems that there is no cure for it, and then someone comes along and says ‘I have a magic potion to cure you.’ You want to believe in it.


“So, Donald Trump used some of the right keywords. He talked about manufacturing decline, which yes, is declining. But it’s declining pretty much everywhere in the world. Well-understood dynamics explain it. But if you are a 50-year-old auto worker, it’s very hard for you to retrain for another occupation that will help you maintain your income. You want to believe in something that deals with your situation.

“I think it’s like many populists we have seen in history. You offer very simple prescriptions. First you diagnose the problem. And then you keep talking about it over and over again so the person feels worse about it. And then you offer some magic solutions. You say: ‘I’ll impose tariffs. I’ll tax those U.S. firms that have moved manufacturing jobs abroad.’ And, because economics is complicated and because people are desperate, they are inclined to say, ‘Yes, that will work.’”

Comments (97)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 09/19/2019 - 09:10 am.

    As a native of small town America and child of the 50’s, many of my friends took the first manufacturing job they could get out of high school, no additional education training etc required, they knew it all, and more or less thought they were set up for life. Guys like me after a 4 year Navy stint and a number of other searching/gigs went out into the world got a Technical college degree, took personal charge of my life, and gained employment traveling internationally to meet the new challenges of the times. Many of my hometown friends were sitting in the bars smoking cigarettes and getting stoned while blaming everyone else for their fate in life. Call it luck of the draw, or a properly placed foot on the backside at an earlier age, Many of those friends attitudes resemble Trump perfectly, take credit for all that goes well, and blame someone else for everything that doesn’t, take no personal responsibility.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/20/2019 - 02:40 pm.

      Where this analysis falls down is that incomes have stagnated for all groups. Even highly skilled machinists that work on commercial aircraft, as well as electricians and pip fitters.

      Remember a few years back when it come out that Apple, Google, Microsoft, and a few other of the glamorous new corporations were conspiring to hold down wages of soft ware engineers? These are some of the most highly skilled, highly sought after people in the economy today, and even they weren’t making what they should have been because of an illegal restraint of trade engineered by Bill Gates.

      Today’s plumbers are better off than if they just had a high school diploma, but they still make less than plumbers of the 1960’s. Clearly, getting more training isn’t the entire answer.

      • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 09/26/2019 - 05:21 pm.

        For sake of conversation: Good plumbers are billing out at ~ $125/Hr, roughly $250K a year, before expenses, electricians are similar. And you can’t be certified either W/O additional post high school training, pipe fitters, HVAC, all in similar areas of per hour billing, all requiring something beyond High School. Quality Machinists, $50K and up, $35-45K starting right out of Dunwoody, just saying.

        • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 10/01/2019 - 06:19 pm.

          Don’t conflate a contractor’s charge out rate with the hourly wage of the employees of a contractor.

          Further, I notice you did not address my point that wage stagnation has been a problem for both the skilled & unskilled.

  2. Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 09/19/2019 - 09:30 am.

    Am I supposed to take away from this, that this is just the way of things in the economy? At least it doesn’t say I should vote for a Dem to make it all better.

    As for undocumented immigrants not working in high dollar factory jobs, ok; but why is it that the building trades never get mentioned in these discussions, because that is a relatively high dollar business and I can assure you there are plenty of undocumented immigrants in various aspects of that trade. (Still I don’t blame the immigrant, but the elite running cover for them.)

    As for acting as though tech is like something holy that can’t be questioned, I wonder why it is we tax employment so intensely, but there are no such taxes for automation and AI that wipe out jobs? We are incentivizing automation and AI while effectively penalizing employment. And then we lecture those who lose their careers about the inevitability of tech. Well guess what, the next round of AI is coming for white-collar jobs. Are we going to be as indifferent about that?

    Btw, I distinctly remember those white working class men roundly condemned as racist and mysogynistic after the election. Any time I suggested that economics was the primary cause for them to bail on establishment republicans and democrats, I was generally, condescendingly reminded of my racist and mysogynistic privilege as a working poor white male.

    Populists like Trump don’t rise in a vacuum. They rise because a segment of society is left behind, while they are shamed for not keeping up. That is on Dems as much as it is establishment republicans.

    • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 09/19/2019 - 09:34 am.

      Btw, our landfills are mountains of cheap Chinese consumer crap.

      • Submitted by Charlie Quimby on 09/22/2019 - 11:37 am.

        Yes. The economist who thinks Chinese furniture is better than the stuff made in North Carolina really ought to go furniture shopping.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/19/2019 - 09:41 am.

      If a segment of society was ‘on top’ because of the color of their skin, and find that they are losing that advantage, that is a cause for shame.
      And some numbers please: what proportion of construction workers are illegal aliens? What proportion of the total unskilled/semiskilled work force are construction workers?

      • Submitted by Mike Schumann on 09/19/2019 - 12:39 pm.

        Just look at the roofing trades. 20 years ago these were middle class jobs that paid decent wages. Go to a residential roofing job today. A large portion of the workers are immigrants who don’t speak English. Are these guys here legally? Are they earning middle class wages? I doubt it.

        The same goes for the meat packing industry. Look what happened at Hormel in Austin 20 years ago. Same story. Middle class jobs got taken over by immigrants, many of them here illegally, and wages got slashed so that you can barely live on them.

        People aren’t stupid. This was all driven by corporate greed benefiting top management and stockholders. All enabled by professional politicians of both parties who ignored the problem and failed to enforce the law. That’s why people voted for Trump.

        • Submitted by John Evans on 09/19/2019 - 02:30 pm.

          Roofing has always been miserable, dangerous and very hard labor. You can’t do it for very many years, so it never was much of a career. You had to move into another area of construction, like carpentry.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/19/2019 - 10:20 am.

      “As for undocumented immigrants not working in high dollar factory jobs, ok; but why is it that the building trades never get mentioned in these discussions . . .”

      The building trades encompass a range of jobs, in a range of settings. Are they all the same? Is someone who works on renovations for homeowners paid the same as someone working on a commercial building project? Put another way, are the guys who hang out in the Home Depot parking lot competing with members of the Carpenters’ Union for jobs?

      • Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 09/19/2019 - 07:00 pm.

        Many trades people would say that if they’re in the country illegally, *any* trade they are hanging around in the parking lot to work is one they aught not be competing for.

        I remember a time, not long ago when the lefty line was illegal immigrants were all doing jobs no American would take…

        Suggesting they aren’t getting the real juicy construction jobs is pretty poor apologetics, in my opinion.

        Others would point out they aught not be in the parking lot at all.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/20/2019 - 12:22 pm.

          “Suggesting they aren’t getting the real juicy construction jobs is pretty poor apologetics, in my opinion.”

          Among other things, you’re confusing a question with “apologetics.”

          • Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 09/20/2019 - 04:21 pm.

            I’m not confused at all, sir.

            It seems that a majority of your commentary consists of apologetics for groups and people engaging in skeevy behavior. And that’s fine; someone has to do it, I guess.

    • Submitted by John Webster on 09/19/2019 - 10:21 am.

      Mr. Duncan,

      You wrote a very insightful comment with an analysis that rarely if ever appears in any left-of-center news/opinion outlet. It is politically incorrect to state the fact that many building tradespeople have been displaced by illegal immigrants who are willing to work for much lower wages. Two years ago I read a letter to the editor that had appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, written by a retired union roofer. That man noted that residential roofing in the Twin Cities was for many decades overwhelmingly a union job that paid (in 2017 dollars) at least $25/hour with excellent benefits. When illegal immigrants started arriving in large numbers by the mid-1980s, union jobs pretty much went away, and roofing wages fell to $10-12/hour with no benefits. Union roofing contractors could not compete with those much lower labor costs.

      I cited this retired roofer on another blog a few months ago, and a reader responded that he had worked as a drywaller in 1990 when the wages were $12/hour in his area. He said that drywalling jobs were now paying $10/hour, with almost all the work being done by illegal immigrants. In that situation, nominal wages – not inflation adjusted – had actually fallen over 28 years because of the huge influx of low-wage, illegal labor.

      Millions of blue-collar people know this reality, even if few journalists do. Hence President Trump.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/19/2019 - 01:43 pm.

        All immigrants are not illegal.
        I wonder how these people know that the people with brown faces who worked for less were here illegally.

      • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 09/19/2019 - 02:07 pm.

        Yes, in the building trades, it is mostly drywall and roofing where undocumented immigrants have reduced incomes overall. But also landscaping, masonry, siding and really all trades to a degree, wherever they are hired.

        Again, I do not blame the immigrant. I blame the leadership of this country left and right since Reagan, and the neoliberal, corporate, financial globalization of the economy. Both parties and most of the people who voted for them among the middle, upper-middle and wealthiest classes, the so-called “educated”, who turned away from working people, ignoring illegal immigration which benefited the top 20% of Americans but was so devastating to the income of the majority. Just as they embraced global trade rules that pitted American working class folk against labor in other, poorer countries, just as they embraced all things AI and Automation like it were holy “progress”.

        For years I warned people, if you are going to ignore the plight of working people, they will eventually support someone who will listen to them who you really do not like. If such people don’t like Trump, be assured it could get a lot worse. A lot worse.

      • Submitted by Brian Simon on 09/19/2019 - 02:35 pm.

        I work a white collar job. If my employer can find someone to do the same work at half the price, I’m out of a job. This is the free market. If someone will do the job for $12/hr, why pay 25? Or, if they’re paid the $25, is the job done twice as well, or in half the time?

        • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/23/2019 - 05:56 pm.

          If most white collar jobs did not require proficiency in written & spoken English, you might have a point. But since most white collar jobs require both of those, it’s apples & oranges.

          We don’t protect blue collar jobs from getting undercut by cheap labor & free markets, but we do protect medical doctors from free trade. Funny how that works.

          • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/24/2019 - 10:01 am.

            “If most white collar jobs did not require proficiency in written & spoken English, you might have a point.”

            A lot of technology-related or dependent jobs require only basic written English. Coding jobs are being offshored to India and the Philippines where those with “21st century skills) will do the job for a fraction of what an American worker would expect.

            • Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 09/24/2019 - 03:23 pm.

              Yes sir, lots of companies have been lured in by low costs to outsource programming to India. So many in fact, that the results have become a meme

              https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=indian+code

              The same is true for other engineering fields.

              As with the Maquiladoras of the 80’s and 90’s, the dream of easy profits clashed disastrously with the reality of doing business in foreign countries with completely different cultures.

              • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/24/2019 - 05:25 pm.

                It isn’t just engineering. Discovery support – the fall-back job for unemployed law school graduates – is often outsourced to India. There, the lawyers have been trained in the same common-law traditions, and are tolerably capable of handling American legal documents.

                It’s also a sought-after job by top law school graduates in India.

      • Submitted by John Evans on 09/19/2019 - 02:37 pm.

        You aren’t really describing a problem of illegal immigrants; you’re describing a problem of illegal employers. That’s actually a much more manageable problem, but it’s been politically unacceptable to address it. Instead, we blame the immigrant laborers.

        This is like arresting prostitutes while holding their pimps and their customers blameless.

        • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/20/2019 - 02:46 pm.

          Spot on!

          It was Ronnie Reagan who stopped sanctioning employers who hire undocumented workers. But that policy has been continued by all subsequent POTUSes, R & D alike.

          We need E-verfy required of all employers. The GOP doens’y push it because it would deny them a huge campaign issue, and their corporate overlords like the cheap labor. Why on earth a Dem POTUS candidate doesn’t promote is a mystery.

          • Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 09/21/2019 - 02:40 pm.

            It was Ronnie Reagan that afforded amnesty and citizenship to 3 million illegal migrants, too.

            Seems like he had a lot of lessons learned to pass along.

    • Submitted by lisa miller on 09/19/2019 - 11:41 am.

      I think on one hand you make a good point, on the other I also think some people use cover for their own ism’s. What I do know is that both extremes are not doing us much good with the one liner’s, the finger pointing, the how about’s. We need more politicians who can have nuanced conversations, who recognize it’s complicated, but who also speak on a broader level. Research shows the president has a limited role in the economic swings and even some farmers who are suffering support the fool. I attended a diversity training recently where a Caucasian person stated after listening, ‘it’s all our fault all the time.’ This person financially struggles and probably would have voted for a moderate dem without baggage, but that was not on the table. I remember the Clinton campaign stating they had done research and with all the right votes they felt they could win without that working class male white vote. Dems also do a lousy job on the selling points that Mr. Black raises. And yet the chances we repeat the cycle are dangerously high.

      • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 09/19/2019 - 02:17 pm.

        Lisa,

        From my vantage point, Dems generally are sticking to the theory that Trump won because of Russia/Putin, and because most of those who voted for him are backwards, racist, mysogynistic deplorables.

        That Biden leads is a sign to me that a great many supporters of Obama and the Clinton’s are incapable of honest reflection. The leadership of the party are clearly stuck in a divide and conquer mentality, pitting ethnic, race and gender grievances against working poor white economic grievances, to distract from DNC subservience to corporate, banking and billionaire interests subjugating all of us.

        • Submitted by Eric Snyder on 09/19/2019 - 03:27 pm.

          Most Dems I know acknowledge the evidence of a Russian influence, but mostly they focus on research like:

          A New Study Confirms (Again) That Race, Not Economics, Drove Former Democrats to Trump – Research on Iowa counties that swung from Obama to Trump indicates that GOP success was driven far more by sexism and racism than by economic anxiety.

          “Some disproven theories simply refuse to die. Among them is the notion that President Donald Trump’s 2016 victory was largely due to economic anxiety on the part of blue-collar whites.”
          https://psmag.com/news/new-study-confirms-again-that-race-not-economics-drove-former-democrats-to-trump

          That bigoted attitudes exist in America is beyond dispute. Indeed, if you regularly visit social media comment sections on right-wing and conservative websites you’ll find copious evidence of these attitudes. It defies belief that these attitudes do not inform one’s political choices.

          Other research bolsters the above observation. Two books I’m familiar with come to mind:

          Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, by Arlie Russell Hochschild

          Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland, by Jonathan M. Metzl

          Here again the conclusions are really beyond doubt. Irrational bias against groups of people played a significant role in electing Trump.

          If this were not the case, then how is it, despite Trump’s self-evident deplorable attitudes about people of color, that this doesn’t deter his supporters from showing up at his rallies? They’re not only not bothered by it, many of them admit that ‘Trump says aloud what I’m thinking’.

          We want to believe the better versions of ourselves and present these in public. But we can’t ignore the copious evidence in front of us of what plays a significant role in Trump’s support.

          • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 09/19/2019 - 08:48 pm.

            Eric,

            Millions of people in America who voted for Obama voted for Trump. That was not about race. Probably the most important issue that change their minds, other than Obama favoring bankers before home owners who lost their house, was the TPP/TTIP/TISA trade agreements, which would have given corporations more power than governments. Many of those people would have voted for Bernie, but when it became clear that the DNC, corporate Media and Hillary campaign worked together to shut him out, they voted for Trump.

            If Dems do not admit how this economy for 40 years has been so good for corp, bank and billionaire and so difficult for working people, they will lose to Trump.

            • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/24/2019 - 02:14 pm.

              Of course, there is also the factor that millions of people who voted for Obama did not turn out to vote for Clinton.

            • Submitted by Alan Muller on 09/25/2019 - 12:14 pm.

              Dislike of Obama may present as racism, but seems to me to be more related to his failure to deliver on his rhetoric. His favoring of bankers over families losing their homes, etc. (A judgement I would extend to nearly all Minnesota politicians.) Were tens of millions of voters, former Obama voters, suddenly captured by racism? I doubt it.

              The focus of so many Democratic operatives on Russian meddling meshes well with their preference for candidates like Biden and Klobuchar who offer working-class people no real relief–but are liked by the big-dollar funders.

            • Submitted by Eric Snyder on 09/26/2019 - 01:56 pm.

              Where is the evidence for that claim?

              If social media comments are any indication, the typical Republican voter has virtually no useful information about these trade deals.

              Let’s recall a fact about realities on the ground in the US in the days, weeks and months after the election: A steady stream of alarming reports emerged of people who “don’t look/speak American” being accosted, assaulted, insulted and demeaned in public. I don’t know if anyone was compiling a database of these incidents or not, but I do seem to recall someone who would know suggesting that there were many hundreds of such reports. And these were the only ones that got public attention. Presumably there were many more.

              Combine this with other easily discoverable social data, like comments on social media. Take breitbart, the popular conservative website. Among commenters there I’ve seen numerous instances of calls for genocide against Muslims. Countless times I’ve read anti-gay slurs and threats of violence against them in varying shades of explicitness. (I’ve seen this kind of violent rhetoric endlessly on freerepublic as well.) I’ve learned from commenters on breitbart that Puerto Ricans are inherently lazy, and that immigrants are all dangerous invaders who have to be resisted with guns.

              We have a sickness in this country, a pathology of human solidarity (or its lack), and it has nothing directly to do with an informed analysis of the reasons for people’s economic anxiety.

              If you are rightly concerned about the usurpation of democracy by moneyed interests, it’s patently absurd to think that the solution to the degradation of democracy is voting for the GOP, even as a protest vote. First, because this is a party that increasingly evinces a rejection of democracy. Second, because little in the GOP platform has anything to do with improving the lot of working people – and this should be an obvious assessment. If people were in revolt against neoliberal Dems, then the worst thing you could do would be to run into the arms of neoliberal right-wingers who don’t even pretend to care about the failures of this economic doctrine.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 09/19/2019 - 06:57 pm.

          They are sticking to those theories because they are true. It is beyond dispute that Russia interfered and that racism drove Trump’s election.

          • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 09/21/2019 - 10:31 am.

            As for acting as though tech is like something holy that can’t be questioned, I wonder why it is we tax employment so intensely, but there are no such taxes for automation and AI that wipe out jobs? We are incentivizing automation and AI while effectively penalizing employment. And then we lecture those who lose their careers about the inevitability of tech. Well guess what, the next round of AI is coming for white-collar jobs. Are we going to be as indifferent about that?

            Here is a tangible thing we could do to focus on the changing of priorities to make life better for working people. I keep repeating it in the context of discussions like these, but mostly I am met with silence.

            Again, Dems are free to blame Russia and Racism for Trump. That won’t win elections though. As long as economic trends continue to worsen for the majority of people, Trump and the like will continue to win. Ignore working people and their economic concerns at your peril.

            • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/24/2019 - 02:15 pm.

              If this were true, the (at best) flat median wage since 2016 would doom Trump in 2020. Would that it were this simple.

    • Submitted by Charlie Quimby on 09/22/2019 - 11:44 am.

      This: ” I wonder why it is we tax employment so intensely, but there are no such taxes for automation and AI that wipe out jobs? We are incentivizing automation and AI while effectively penalizing employment. ”

      The economist is correct that the AMOUNT of money distributed in CEO pay is not the root cause of income inequality. But WHY or what it is granted relates very much to the declines in pay and jobs for workers.

      Productivity measures used to refer to labor output; now they relate to capital. Instead of workers producing more per hour, a successful CEO aims for reducing the number and cost of workers to achieve the same or greater output.

  3. Submitted by Bob Petersen on 09/19/2019 - 11:35 am.

    Not sure what Mr. Black is referring to as something that would ‘blow your mind.’ There’s nothing to this. You look at all the government indicators. Wages are rising faster now than in a long time for everyone.
    Yes, many people went to Trump because of their personal economics. But it was mainly because there were establishment forces that blocked economic expansion by lots and lots of red tape. Add to it that those close to the government were the ones getting anything out of the recovery.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 09/19/2019 - 06:53 pm.

      That’s utter nonsense. Trump inherited Obama’s economy and despite his tariffs, hasn’t managed to kill it yet. Give it time – nearly all of Trumps businesses eventually failed.

    • Submitted by Brian Simon on 09/20/2019 - 10:27 am.

      “Wages are rising faster now than in a long time for everyone.”

      This is news to me. Got data?

      My perception is that despite unemployment being low & close to “full employment,” wages are basically stagnant when you factor in cost of living changes (i.e. inflation).

  4. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 09/19/2019 - 11:38 am.

    ” White working-class males, who over much of recent history had been part of the Democratic coalition, became one of the key elements of the coalition that elected Donald Trump president…”

    Democrats need to remember that many voted for Trump not because they approved of him or necessarily embraced all of his policies.

    There was another major candidate running against Trump that they viewed as more corrupt, had a much greater propensity for lying, and moral bankrupt to a much greater degree.

    The failure of the democrats to even entertain such self refletive thinking about their candidate will potentially lead them astray again.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/19/2019 - 01:16 pm.

      “There was another major candidate running against Trump that they viewed as more corrupt, had a much greater propensity for lying, and moral bankrupt to a much greater degree.”

      The irony, it burns.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 09/19/2019 - 01:59 pm.

      RG, “much greater propensity for lying, and moral bankrupt to a much greater degree”
      Really, got anything to support that other than a Rush Limbaugh or other far right wing propaganda pundit? We got the Trumpster at 10,000 and counting, word is we need a super computer to keep up with his flat out BS, misleading, false narratives etc. etc. latest, now pollution is a good thing!
      .

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/19/2019 - 03:25 pm.

        I took him to mean that Trump voters were led to believe Senator Clinton was the less truthful, most corrupt, etc. The evidence of Trump’s thoroughgoing dishonesty and utter lack of any moral compass was not widely reported by that there liberal media.

        You can fool some of the people all of the time, and if they’re concentrated in the right states, you’ll fool them right into the White House.

    • Submitted by Brian Simon on 09/19/2019 - 02:41 pm.

      “The failure of the democrats to even entertain such self refletive thinking about their candidate will potentially lead them astray again.”

      While I don’t disagree, I think many Dems / Dem leaners have learned the right lessons. Though I also think far too many Dems learned the wrong lessons. Watching the primary play out, I’m seeing signs that more dems are waking up to the reality that systemic change is neccessary. Whether they can talk sense into the old guard remains to be seen.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/20/2019 - 02:52 pm.

        I am concerned that while many Dem voters have learned a lesson, I fear that many high level DC Dem operatives are more than willing to fight with the same battle plan, running a corporate friendly Clinton-Obama type who won’t offend Wall Street or do anything about income inequality.

  5. Submitted by Tim Smith on 09/19/2019 - 12:20 pm.

    Let us not forget a decade of identity politics and political correctness took its toll on these good folks too. Even the successful people outside urban areas are sick of being shamed for having an American flag, or a bible or going to church. Pop culture ridicules them. They took it all out on Hillary, the professional swamper who didn’t speak to them. Deplorable!
    Professional swampers of both parties got rich while hard working Americans were forced to the sidelines thanks to us being ok with massive trade deficits for decades.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/19/2019 - 01:18 pm.

      What is a focus on the white working class if not “identity politics?” And the right-wing has its own brand of “political correctness” that has permeated American life.

      • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 09/19/2019 - 02:31 pm.

        RB,

        In my experience, white, black, red, yellow and every other color/race, gender, sex, ethnicity etc working people are generally happy to work together as long as they are all compensated well and treated with respect and dignity. It is the wealthy who really are not left nor right who benefit most by pitting working people against each other. Classic divide and conquer.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/19/2019 - 03:21 pm.

          Very true. Race-baiting was used by the wealthy in the south as a way to keep the white working class in line (“If you join the union, all the n****s are going to steal your jobs and take your women! You don’t want that, do you?”).

    • Submitted by Eric Snyder on 09/19/2019 - 01:56 pm.

      “Even the successful people outside urban areas are sick of being shamed for having an American flag, or a bible or going to church.”

      I’ve never seen a shred of evidence to support that claim. It’s probably safe to say that it doesn’t exist.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 09/19/2019 - 02:02 pm.

      TS, and what are you doing?: “Pop culture ridicules them” “sick of being shamed for having an American flag, or a bible” sure looks like identity politics from here!

    • Submitted by John Evans on 09/19/2019 - 02:53 pm.

      “… people outside the urban areas are sick of being shamed for …” This is a favorite trope of right wing propaganda because, apparently, it works!

      When your group is losing power, both in relative and absolute terms, it is validating to hear that you are being oppressed by some other group that allegedly holds you in contempt.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/19/2019 - 03:52 pm.

        Someday, I would like to know why it is okay for conservatives to hold urban liberals in contempt, but it’s so mean and divisive for liberals to say anything about rural conservatives.

        • Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 09/19/2019 - 07:08 pm.

          I hadn’t noticed lefties were holding back on condemning “those people” clinging to their guns and their bibles at all.

          • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/20/2019 - 10:23 am.

            And it gets called out, doesn’t it?

            It’s hard not to snipe at Trump supporters who cling to Bibles. Their “faith” is little more than window dressing.

            • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/20/2019 - 02:55 pm.

              While they cut 200,000 souls from food assistance.

              “What soever you do to the least of my people….”

            • Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 09/20/2019 - 04:26 pm.

              “Their “faith” is little more than window dressing.”

              Where would we be without special people out there with mind reading super powers to guide our judgement making?

              • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/21/2019 - 01:35 pm.

                Oh for Pete’s sake, if Isaiah walked the streets today he’d be spewing condemnation 24/7!

                Welcome the alien in your midst, as you were once an alien in the land of Egypt. You do know the Baby Jesus was an illegal alien, don’t you? A dark skinned one at that.

                The hateful rhetoric of The Other that Don Trump issues is in no way Christian. Do unto others first is not what the Jewish Carpenter preached.

                • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/24/2019 - 02:24 pm.

                  Actually, the concept of illegal alien was invented by the U.S.Congress in 1880. Hitler learned from it (actually quoted it).

              • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/23/2019 - 09:59 am.

                It doesn’t matter what a person believes, or whether they nod their approval at the words coming from the front of the church. If they act in an un-Christian manner, it’s all a sham.

                Don’t take my word for it. James 2:14-17.

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 09/19/2019 - 09:25 pm.

      I go to church and took a course in which we had to read the entire Bible. I don’t own a flag, but I’m not into merely symbolic patriotism.

      I have never had anyone shame me for this.

      What Democrats object to is so-called “Christians” who claim to follow Christ but instead unquestioningly follow a president whose actions and words are precisely the opposite of what Christ taught.

      We also object to people who want everyone to venerate the flag as if it’s some sacred object but forget about the “liberty and justice for all” part.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/20/2019 - 09:27 am.

      Just a decade?
      Remember Nixon and the ‘silent majority’?

  6. Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 09/19/2019 - 01:53 pm.

    This article is about why white working class men are wrong about voting for Trump, not about why they did vote for Trump.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 09/19/2019 - 06:55 pm.

      Right. Trump lied to them about the source of their problems, and they believed him. And Trump won’t fix their problems.

      • Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 09/20/2019 - 06:14 pm.

        Interesting perspective. Could you be more specific?

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/21/2019 - 10:11 am.

          Trump claimed that the main cause of job loss was outsourcing to China, when in fact the main cause is automation. Even if manufacturing were returned to the USA, employment in manufacturing, particularly at the low and semi-skilled levels would remain down. It just takes fewer humans to build a car.

          • Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 09/21/2019 - 04:16 pm.

            I’m not sure what this has to do with white working class men. Were they better off voting for Hillary? It sounds like she wouldn’t have brought their jobs back. So what’s wrong with them voting for Trump?

            • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/24/2019 - 09:15 am.

              Where to begin?

              A vote for Trump is a vote for corruption. Believe it or not, many white working class men (the lodestar of our polity, it seems) care about the integrity of the system and upholding the Constitution. Saying that all they care about is keeping their own job is a trifle condescending. Many white working class men are patriots, and feel they have a vested interest in making sure the American ideal does not whither away.

              If we’re assuming that white working class men vote only for their own interests, you might wonder how their interests are best served by weakening workplace safety protections, dismantling the health insurance many of them have come to rely upon, and loosening food inspections to the point of meaninglessness (I have it on good authority that many white working class men eat).

              We also cannot forget that many white working class men have dreams of better lives for their children (they would still be white, and roughly half of them will be men, but they would arguably no longer be working class). Perhaps they would like to send them to college, and not a college run by hedge funds and other miscellaneous grifters. What are the odds of that happening now?

            • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/24/2019 - 02:26 pm.

              Hillary might not have been able to bring all their jobs back, but she wouldn’t have cut the social support programs to tide them over until they could find new jobs.

  7. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 09/19/2019 - 02:18 pm.

    First of all, good-paying union jobs began disappearing quickly under Ronald Reagan’s attacks on them, in the 1980s. The construction jobs paying “union wages” in the 1970s suddenly, without union protection, were paying much less and THEN those jobs were spurned by white males and taken by immigrants willing to work here for less.

    [Some here have a chicken versus the egg problem, blaming immigrants for lower wages when it was a combination of other forces, including Republican political ideology, that caused US-based wages to plummet.]

    And please, don’t blame women! As Elizabeth Warren’s academic research has shown, the influx of women into the workplace was a necessary feature of our American lives, just for families to survive, and it was an economic trap (see her 2003 book on that). For this economist to say that women’s wages have gone up 60% is a hoot: For a woman’s yearly income to go from $10,000 to $16,000 is not to put her in the one percent!

    The two candidates vying for the 2020 presidential race who best understand the economics of what ails America, and especially the jobs scene, are Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang. Sanders is too mich of an ideologue and a one-note Charlie. He yells all the time, too.

    Yang is the one who most completely understands what high tech has done, and will do, to our working lives and why there’s no refuge except a government-provided yearly basic income.

    Elizabeth Warren has a thorough grasp of the Big Picture, and she’s worked out some detailed solutions for our economic/jobs problem, one of which is the Green New Deal and the millions of jobs it will provide, along with the infrastructure investment Trump has refused to make for the working class–he promised to do that, but he’s a unstable promiser no one can trust.

    All one has to do to be convinced that it’s only the Democratic candidates who have the working class as a true focus of their policy positions, is to watch the debates among Democrats. Any one of them, even the Love Conquers All guru, has more on the ball than Donald Trump. More empathy for others, more nuances.

    And, hey! please stop bringing up Hillary Clinton to say how “corrupt” she was! Not in the day of Trump’s corruption, his deeper and stinkier Washington swamp, his probably treason to America (you guys following the new whistleblower “thingie,” where Trump’s potential transgression is so bad that his Justice Dept. has instructed the Director of National Intelligence not to forward to Congress the complaint about Trump’s phoned promise to some foreign leader, of “urgent concern” according to the Inspector General? Despite the law?)

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/20/2019 - 02:58 pm.

      Not only did Reagan attack unions (the decline started with Taft-Hartley in 1947, not in 1981), but he also stopped penalizing employers who hired undocumented workers.

      It’s not either/or, it’s both.

    • Submitted by John Evans on 09/21/2019 - 02:49 pm.

      Wha-a-at? I can’t even blame women? Come on, you’ve gotta leave me someone to blame.

  8. Submitted by joe smith on 09/19/2019 - 05:07 pm.

    Globalists and elites sold our manufacturing, mining, logging and most labor jobs off for the last 30+ years to Canada, Mexico and the rest of the world. NAFTA was that “sucking sound of our jobs leaving” as Ross Perot so profoundly put it decades ago. America First isn’t some racist dog whistle, it is prioritizing a job in America over a job in another country. That rings true to millions of Americans still today. That is why Trump can go from Duluth MN to New Mexico and fill 20,000 seat arenas. Wages are rising and we are at full employment, 2 great things for working class Americans.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 09/20/2019 - 12:45 pm.

      Ya sure Joe, and Trump is not an elite? Last we hear majority of folks working at his resorts are immigrants, majority of folks building his buildings were not union workers. You folks got conned and can’t fess up to it. Just like Trump, never can fess up to anything.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 09/20/2019 - 12:59 pm.

      Last I recall it was Ronnie Regan a republican, that busted the Air Controllers Union, and good old Scott walker and the Republicans that busted the teachers and State workers union next door, The Republican party, the party of business, has had a life long effort to destroy the labor unions. Now that they have pretty much accomplished that seems like folks like you are some how changing the tune to create another false narrative. You know all those movie stars, suspect those are the elites in your world, guess what? they belong to the Screen actors guild (a union). And, so what happened to the free market competitive values? Don’t believe in them anymore? Changed the tune to match the situation? Blame someone else for all the problems and failures but claim responsibility for all the success. Like Trump a perfect whiner,

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/24/2019 - 02:30 pm.

      Again, the main reason for lost jobs was automation, not outsourcing.
      Keeping manufacturing jobs in the U.S. while staying cost competitive would have meant poverty level wages.
      The answer is investing in an educational system that produces knowledge/service workers as good as those in India and the Philippines.
      We could start by paying teachers competitive wages the way they do in Europe and the Pacific Rim.

  9. Submitted by Charles Holtman on 09/19/2019 - 05:50 pm.

    Working-class white males were in 2016, and are, quite correct in perceiving that the Democratic and Republican establishments, in service to their economic clientele, have done nothing but undermine the economic and social position of ordinary folks.

    But working class white males were in 2016, and remain, bizarrely bereft of judgment if their support for Trump is based on a conviction that he will address those concerns. There is no one in public life less capable of having an interest in another’s welfare, and less able to lead toward sound and sustainable economic and social policy, than Trump. Trump recognized the resentment and anxiety there to be exploited, and did it with a masterful instinct. That is all. His character is empty and his words are transparently manipulating words in service to his pathology of ego and absolutely nothing else.

    For decades, the critique of the Democratic and Republican establishments, and the argument for a sustainable and humane economy that benefits the white working class and everyone else, has come from the left. This critique has been diligently kept from the public discourse and the ears of the white working class, but is starting to seep through via the platforms of figures such as Sanders and Warren. If working-class white males would like to live in an economically and socially humane society where they and their families can live decent lives, they need to pack their bags and journey to the left. But they will have to accept that the guiding principle will be the welfare of all, not the welfare of some and the suffering of others.

  10. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 09/20/2019 - 12:39 am.

    Trusting a rich New York City blowhard who has cheated thousands of people shows how naive his white working class male supporters are. They have been hurt by Trump, just like everyone who has dealt with him. Showing they have learned better should make them want to change their choice in 2020z

  11. Submitted by Julie Stroeve on 09/20/2019 - 09:03 am.

    It’s ironic that white men voted for Trump because he said he’d get the jobs back – or whatever he said to his audiences. The question is: did he get the jobs back and do those white men feel better about the economy? What industries have given white women more/better work than white men? I haven’t seen that anywhere. If white men are angry about the top 1% getting all the money, it sure as hell isn’t getting any better for them under Trump. Perhaps they’ll vote their pocketbooks the next time around.

  12. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/20/2019 - 03:02 pm.

    What this country needs is a guest worker program coupled with E-Verify. E-Verify should be the law of the land, not voluntary as it is now.

    Good luck getting the country club set to accept that!

    • Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 09/24/2019 - 12:07 pm.

      Speaking as someone concerned with the wholesale violation of our border, I would wholeheartedly support a guest worker program, with the stipulation that:

      1. Worker visas be renewed every year.
      2. Visa holders return home once per year for a minimum of 30 days.
      3. Worker visas in no way move a recipient ahead in the permanent resident queue.
      4. Visas only apply to jobs with a documented history of chronic worker shortages.

  13. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/20/2019 - 07:33 pm.

    And now Trumpf is sending troops to Saudi Arabia to provoke a war with Iran (any future Iranian missile attacks are likely to injure an American).
    Strangely enough, this coincides with revelations about Trumpf’s impeachable actions with Ukraine (trying to pressure them to investigate the Biden’s).

  14. Submitted by Joe Musich on 09/20/2019 - 07:51 pm.

    Seems as if certain people are really dug in here with their opinions. And some then come up with data and facts that added to with certain anecdotal remarks. People are getting poorer as wages after inflation have not improved. The standard for what determines poverty for a family of four has not changed in decades. For most the nation is coming apart at the seems. We swing between new con and neo lib with our economic and foreign policies grinding down any forward motion for either. The last forward motion we had was during the war machine build during WWII which was maintained until the early 1960s. Beginning with JFK things began to devolve. Not because of him necessarily but through exercise of a different monetary policy with Friedman overtaking Keynes. Investment in the people diminished. Until that changes through returning to the fair shake political polices and investment on a large governmental scale the infighting between corporate and political groups will destroy us all. And keep in mind other nations states would like to see that continue.

  15. Submitted by Miriam Segall on 09/21/2019 - 05:30 pm.

    There’s been a lot of thoughtful discussion in these posts about the plight of the white working men who support Trump. There may indeed be some who really believed that the fabulous businessman Donald Trump was going to restore the economy of the 1950s. But I think the basic reason that Trump has been able to connect with so many white working men (and their women) is that the biggest thing about Trump is his inferiority complex. He’s a victim – of the mainstream media, of “fake news”, of “hoaxes”, of “witch hunts”, of the “Deep State”, of people who undercount the crowds at his inauguration, and of course of the Manhattan “social elites” and the owners of NFL football teams who didn’t want any part of a real-estate developer from the outer boroughs (who just happened to be a bully, a liar, and a lout). And many of his supporters, bewildered and angry about what has happened to their lives, their jobs, and their whole way of life, respond to that narrative of victimhood because they see themselves as victims also – of undocumented immigrants, any immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims, blacks, women, Jews, “libtards”, whatever seems to you the most appropriate target. It’s so much easier to believe that somebody has done you dirty, than to look at causes of your problems like automation because what are you going to do about that? Trump tells them that the system is rigged, and they believe it because the system is indeed rigged, but Trump isn’t going to tell them that the system is rigged in favor of people like him with money and influence and a total disregard for anything except what is going to get them more money and more influence. He’ll imply that the system is rigged in favor of undocumented immigrants, any immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims, blacks, women, Jews, “libtards”, whatever, and let his working-class supporters draw their own angry conclusions. And of course at least some of the people with money and influence can see that Trump is basically their man and is helping them get a lot more of what they’ve already got.

    • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 09/23/2019 - 02:38 pm.

      Very, very nicely said. And what does it say about the Democratic establishment, that it has had five decades to formulate a program that actually serves the economic and social welfare of ordinary folks, and yet has offered so little that Trump and the Republican party can manipulate these resentments with a few laughably meretricious and insincere slogans and, just like that, secure an unshakeable fealty as the champions of the common man (and woman)?

  16. Submitted by Henry Johnson on 09/21/2019 - 09:30 pm.

    I’d say that’s about right Miriam.

    The real funny-if-wasn’t-tragic element here is that he has millions of lower income people thinking he’s “their guy”, when in fact, he has always been focused on his own selfish needs at the expense of the “little guy” – look at all he lawsuits from small contractors who lost their shirts when he declared bankruptcy multiple times.

    And look at how the only significant legislation that’s gotten past the last 3 years is a tax cut geared primarily to benefit the rich, and to do so permanently, with a few crumbs to appeaser the rest of us, and those crumbs were written in the legislation to expire in 2025.

  17. Submitted by Julie Stroeve on 09/24/2019 - 04:16 pm.

    Trump was the Pied Piper of uneducated, white guys. What was there not to like about “fixing” every possible thing that was wrong in their lives? The question is: How did that go for you? The answer is: Not too damn well. Can they come to Jesus before the presidential primaries? If kitchen table economics is your issue, vote for the fiscally responsible party. Every. Time. That party is the Democratic Party now and as far into the future as we can see.

    • Submitted by Henry Johnson on 09/24/2019 - 05:50 pm.

      Julie, I certainly agree 100% that the president did exactly what politicians have done forever, namely tell people what they want to hear, regardless of whether you can deliver or not ( I doubt if even the president ever believed Mexico was paying for a border wall, but the crowds ate it up at rallies and it helped get him elected. Same with “draining the swamp”, which is deeper than ever now).

      However, while I agree on that point, I can’t quite believe you’re serious when you say that the democrats are “the fiscally responsible party”??

      My observation is that except for a brief moment where we actually had a balanced budget under Bill Clinton, neither of the two major parties gives a darn about fiscal responsibility when it comes right down to it.

      For a long time the republicans made a lot of noise about balanced budgets and smaller government, but George W Bush started an endless war cycle that think to date has cost something like 6 trillion dollars, and after complaining about spending for 8 years under Obama, they are offering no resistance AT ALL to president Trump’s huge unbalanced budgets.

      And Democrats are equally unconcerned about deficit spending, and generally have been that way for many decades.

      That’s why we have 22 trillion of national debut and growing – neither party is serious about fiscal responsibility – and neither party is advocating that as an important issue for the 2020 election cycle either.

      I will be voting democratic because they are defending the constitution, while republicans have been shamelessly standing by and watching as it gets violated and turned into an empty piece of paper that gets ignored with no consequences- but let’s not kid ourselves that fiscal responsibility is a strong suit for party, because in truth it’s a very weak spot for both parties.

      Both apparently think that huge and growing deficits are no big deal and will never catch up with us or our children and grandchildren.

      I think they’re very wrong on that, and I think there should probably be a 16 year old ‘Greta” out there saying “Hey, thanks a lot for the huge God-awful MOUNTAIN of debt you’re leaving us!”

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