When it comes to earnings, white Americans aren’t being left behind

Americans have many reasons to feel less secure.
Americans have many reasons to feel less secure.
Image: Reuters/Jonathan Spicer
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Few can explain the Trump phenomenon. One popular explanation is that his base is made up of angry white men facing dwindling economic prospects. As the argument goes: stagnant wages turned the masses (mainly middle-aged, uneducated men) on to populism and fed their suspicions that racial and ethnic minorities are encroaching on their shrinking piece of the pie.

Yet Trump’s base is more diverse than these arguments suggest. And besides, this argument is not borne out in the data: Whites aren’t losing out to American minorities. The figure below is average weekly earnings of Americans age 18 to 65, by race and ethnicity, over the last 21 years from the Census’ Current Population Survey.

It does not appear Hispanic and black Americans are overtaking whites. White earnings increased a paltry 14% since 1994, while Hispanic and black earnings only increased about 8%. True, earnings growth was near nonexistent for everyone (except Asian Americans) since the early 2000s. But minority earnings suffered more. White earnings increased by 6% in the last 15 years, but Hispanic earnings only increased 1%. Black earnings fell 5%.

Even if you don’t have a college degree, it is better to be white. The figure below is earnings among Americans with no college degree by race.

Earnings for uneducated whites have been declining. But uneducated minorities earn even less than their white peers. Hispanics’ earnings took the biggest dive during the recession. Their earnings fell 6% compared to 3% for whites and black Americans. Minorities also face higher rates of unemployment.

To be sure, most Americans aren’t experiencing the gains in income that previous generations did. But that is due to changes in technology and competition from abroad, not from minorities at home. Whites appear to be reaping whatever meager growth there is. Earnings also don’t tell the whole story. Americans have many reasons to feel less secure—but everyone shares in this insecurity and whites remain better financially positioned to cope.