Which Marginalized Americans Are Part of a Great America?

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November 16, 2016; Brookings Institution

It took data guru Nate Silver, who gave Hillary Clinton a 71.4 percent chance of winning the 2016 presidential election, only one sentence the day after the election to tell us why the result turned out as it did: “Donald Trump won the Presidency by riding an enormous wave of support among white working class voters.” The surprising results have been credited at least in part to our new president-elect validating and giving voice to feelings of marginalization and anger among traditionally Democratic voters. These are hardworking men and women who saw the political system, economy, and popular culture leaving them behind while others cut ahead of them as they pursued the American Dream.

There is some truth in their story. Fewer lucrative factory jobs in Rust Belt communities; the nation’s “greener” shift shutting down mines and oil fields; growing “opportunities” in service industries that come with low salaries; an uncertain future as our economy becomes more digital; a frozen national government that seems unable to make life seem better…all reasons for those in midst of this hurt to feel alienated. Donald Trump’s victory made their struggle front-page news.

But this story is not theirs alone. As John Hudak, writing for the Brookings Institution, points out:

There are many groups in this country who are economically marginalized. […] The conversation around the “economically marginalized” has focused almost exclusively on white working class voters, and that is a travesty. There are many other Americans who are not traditionally grouped under the heading ”white working class voters” who remain economically marginalized—and most of them voted for someone other than Donald Trump.”

Hudak reminds us that among those who “face some of the most significant economic marginalization are young people (defined as the 18-24 demographic), women, African Americans and Latinos.” When we compare these groupings, we find a disturbing picture.

In October 2016, overall unemployment sat at 4.9 percent, while unemployment for white Americans edged down to 4.3 percent. Last month, however, black unemployment stood at 8.6 percent and unemployment among Latinos was 5.7 percent. Unemployment statistics are dramatically worse for younger Americans. In Q3 2016, 15.6 percent of Americans 18–19 were unemployed, as were 8.4 percent of those 20–24. […] Women fare quite well versus men, a statistic that is generally true across racial and ethnic groups. Yet, compensation tells another story. When examining median weekly earnings, women earn less than men, people of color earn less than whites, and the intersection—women of color—face the most significant wage disparities in our nation.

In calling out the plight of white working class households, Donald Trump was able to get enough electoral college votes to win. But Clinton’s margin in winning the popular vote shows the tens of millions of other voters comprising other segments of our most struggling citizens. Looking at the results from this perspective poses a question many are beginning to ask: Does “Making America Great Again” only mean improving the lives of white, working-class men and women? As the new administration coalesces, setting forth the policy directions that it will champion, which parts of marginalized America will it address?—Martin Levine