Everybody’s talking about the angry white voters who are putting Donald Trump on a fast track to the White House. Who are they? Where do they come from? And, why are they so angry? In my view, only Washington insiders could ask such a stupid question.
For me, it all goes back to the Kardashian ninnies. That’s my term for the people who trolled the local mall buying things they didn’t need and putting the debt on credit cards. Back when I started out covering personal finance, credit card debt was the single biggest financial problem people talked about.
The ninnies aren’t gone, but these days there are fewer of them. Credit card debt has never returned to the high of 2008. Heck, there are fewer malls, and more are closing every day. Corporate America understands this trend, but inside the beltway it remains a mystery.
In truth, the biggest financial problem for American families today isn’t credit card debt, it is income. Median incomes have been shrinking since 2006. Last month, when the labor department reported February jobs numbers, average hourly wages declined.
And, it’s not like costs are falling, despite what you hear from the government. Average rents are expected to rise eight percent this year, while housing prices may well continue their seven percent plus streak higher. No wonder the homeownership rate is at a 48-year low. Few families can afford it.
The other thing few can afford is a college education. Tuition and other college costs have been percolating along at gains of 3 percent above inflation annually, even during the recession. Medical expenses continue to be the No. 1 reason that families file for personal bankruptcy. Even routine costs for people with medical coverage, such as deductibles and co-pays are on the rise.
I could go on, but you get the picture. People are squeezed. And, that financial pressure has gotten only worse in the wake of the Great Recession. The recession lasted just eighteen months, but the twilight economy we’ve been living in ever since has lasted seven long years.
So people are angry. They are angry they can’t find fulltime jobs with decent pay, and angry that their kids can’t either. This anger has sometimes been cast inward. When Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton evaluated life expectancy for middle aged white Americans, they found it was going down, not up.
Even as middle aged Latinos and African-Americans are living longer, middle aged whites are dying in droves from drug overdoses, suicide, cirrhosis of the liver and diseases traditionally defined as self inflicted. A Washington Post reporter recently matched up the county by county breakdown of white deaths from these causes with Trump support on Super Tuesday.
What he found, was that Trump support was concentrated in these areas.
This week I spoke with Michael Barone, the astute author of the “Almanac of American Politics,” about the primary in Michigan. I asked him where Trump’s support was strong. He said, “Where wasn’t it?” And, then he told me a story about Michigan’s jobs history. In 1970, he said, the UAW conducted a legendary strike against GM in which it demanded 30 years on the line and out for assembly plant workers.
GM was so dominant at the time, that a strike by all its line workers meant one in 200 of all U.S. employees were idle. The national jobs rate plunged for the two months of the strike. Workers got what they were asking for – retirement after 30 years and lavish healthcare benefits. Golden years for these workers started at 48 years of age. Unimaginable, right? Today we’re trying to keep working into our 60s and even 70s to pay for retirement on our own.
Now the children of those retirees are voting. Some of them live in what Barone calls the Flint Riviera along Lake Huron. They voted in huge numbers for Trump. In Iosco County more than 50 percent of the primary vote went for Trump.
These people know precisely how far the American economy has fallen and they are struggling to make it. In a couple of generations, they witnessed the country’s loosened grip on growth and prosperity. And, they don’t like it. Neither do I. Ultimately, I wish fixing the financial problems of American families were as simple as controlling the Kardashian ninnies. In fact, the problems are much more difficult to solve. Coasting along like we have been just isn’t good enough. And, that’s what those angry white voters are telling Washington.
Gerri Willis joined Fox Business Network (FBN) in March of 2010. She is an anchor and personal finance correspondent for the network. Willis is the author of the book “Rich is not a Four-Letter Word” which will be released by Penguin Random House Crown Forum on April 19.
Gerri Willis joined Fox Business Network (FBN) in March of 2010. Willis is an anchor and personal finance reporter for the network. Her new book is "Rich Is Not a Four-Letter Word" (Crown Forum, April 19, 2016). Follow her on Twitter @GerriWillisFBN.