Press Release Coronavirus Economic Crisis and Recovery Government Inequality

Working-Class, White Voters Meet Economic Hardship: Which Way Will They Swing in 2020?

October 27, 2020

Contact: Karen Conner, 202-281-4159Mail_Outline

Washington DC — The largest group of voters swinging from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016 were lower-income whites without college degrees. But recent economic hardship like housing insecurity, as documented in this new analysis by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), has spiked among these voters.

The Rise in Material Hardship Among Working-Class Whites and How It Could Impact the 2020 Election, by Mariko Lewis, Yixia Cai, and Shawn Fremstad, concludes pandemic-induced housing and possibly other hardships not usually “experienced by lower-income whites without college degrees makes retaining all of these vote switchers more difficult for [Trump].”

The analysis is quick to document that housing insecurity among Black and Hispanic households is far more common than in white households especially as the pandemic caused a nationwide spike in unemployment. 

From August to mid-September, Hispanic renters were almost twice as likely as white ones to be behind on rent, while Black renters were more than twice as likely as white ones to be behind on rent. Black homeowners were 2.5 times as likely as white ones to be behind on mortgage payments, and Hispanic homeowners were twice as likely to be behind on mortgage payments.

“White people in the United States have benefitted from structural and institutional racism for generations, but that was no protection for lower-income, less educated whites in this pandemic economy when it came to housing,” said co-author Mariko Lewis. 

Before 2020, the share of white people experiencing housing insecurity was relatively stable and there were not large differences between whites overall and lower-income whites without college degrees. However, the share of lower-income whites without college degrees reporting housing insecurity spiked in 2020. 

From August to mid-September, about one-in-four lower-income, non-college degree white renters were unsure if they could pay the next month’s rent. Among homeowners in this same group, housing insecurity increased by over 60 percent from 2019 to 2020. By contrast, it has remained relatively stable, or even declined, among white homeowners overall.

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