The Lost Workers

Recent events from Chicago to Dayton have highlighted a huge issue within the support base for Donald Trump, and the likelihood for continued violence as the campaign continues into the summer. Some reports have spotlighted certain members of Trump’s base as racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic. However, racism alone does not fully explain how a large swath of the U.S. population has become so angry at immigrants, and minorities.

In order to understand what is going on beneath the surface across America, we have to look at the insecurity many Americans face. In 2012, The U.S. Census reported that one-third of all U.S. counties were ‘dying.’ According to the census, dying counties mean there are a fewer births than deaths. While these rural areas are dying, cities are growing as people are fleeing the country for economic opportunity.

This situation begs the question: What’s happening to the people left behind?

In 2015, the Economic Policy Institute released findings of U.S. Census data that incomes for families have stagnated and dropped. Families across America are making less in 2015, than they were in 2000. Coupled with income stagnation, in 2013, the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank released a report titled — The Vanishing Middle. What they found was as the medium/low skill jobs disappeared, high skill jobs increased. Coupled with the loss of over 8 million jobs during the recession according to USA Today the new jobs leave the low skill workers out of the market as jobs disappear.

This creates a situation where a growing population is in strong competition for diminishing jobs. Where earlier in American history, generations of American workers could find work in the textile industry, steel mills, coal, and other manufacturing industries, these jobs are disappearing at a rapid rate.

A study conducted in 2000 by Peter Burns of Loyola University, and James Gimpel of the University of Maryland found that as people felt the national economy was bad, they were more inclined to look negatively at immigrants, and have negative opinions of blacks. The paper also found education level expressed less prejudice towards blacks and Hispanics. However they also found political affiliation also contributed to racial stereotypes, both good and bad. The study noted that as the perception immigration was creating job competition; people began to become more hostile to immigration.

According to Public Citizens Trade Watch, one out of every four manufacturing jobs have been lost due to trade agreements. Nearly five million manufacturing jobs have been lost since NAFTA.

This directly hits home for me. I come from Yadkinville, North Carolina. It’s a small town in the western part of the state where most people knew someone or worked for a company called Unifi, and some at a local Sara Lee plant. Unifi shrunk, and Sara Lee closed leaving many workers in the community without a job, and only a high school education. This situation plays out all around the country leaving a laundry list of foreclosed homes, and lost dreams.

As Bruce Haynes notes in The 25-year Tide That Gave us Trump: “The prevailing view was that when the anvil came down, the elites used their money, power and influence to raid the U.S. Treasury to protect their wealth. Middle-class Americans got nothing. Worse, they lost overnight what they had fought and worked to build for generations. They worked hard, played by the rules, and got screwed”

The American people are angry, and rightfully so.

In my own family, I’ve seen what economic insecurity can do to a person. A family member who is a Trump supporter lacks a high school education and lost their job in 2014. In this awful circumstance, they have not been able to find secure employment. They’ve gone from making over $40,000 a year to making minimum wage working part time at a grocery store stocking vegetables. In the beginning, there was anger at everyone, and as time progressed a level of hopelessness I had never experienced started sliding in. This family member applied for every form of support from the government, but unfortunately only received food stamps making it complicated for him to keep a roof over his head. As the stress compounded over the years, they started showing signs of what most would consider racism jarring me. Prior to losing their job, they were always religious, but at a point religion wasn’t even enough to keep them going. They had to find someone to blame, because the pressure was too much.

The situation in my family can be seen from multiple testimonials delivered to reporters. The sense of hopelessness among many Trump supporters makes their expressions go against many of the societal norms that are in place in politics. As one family member put it: “Washington doesn’t listen and Mr. Trump is saying what we feel.” At least in the people around me the approach Mr. Trump is taking is refreshing after they feel abandoned. One great tragedy of the American political system is we can only focus on one group at a time, leaving many left forgotten on the sidelines until their turn comes up. This situation is endemic of the full scale gridlock we’ve witnessed in Washington, D.C. and through policy decisions over the last quarter-century that has created the rise of Trump.

Economic insecurity and hopelessness isn’t an excuse for violence, or racism, but to some degree an explanation of some of the emotions many Americans may feel.

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