Working-class white voters will prove tricky to court this election cycle, as a new study reveals the key demographic's often conflicting views on the economy and government.
A majority of working-class white Americans believe the U.S. economic system unfairly favors the wealthy, but even more of them are cautious of government assistance programs, according to a new report by the Public Religion Research Institute. The report also found 62 percent of working-class whites support raising the tax rate on Americans with household incomes of more than $1 million per year. Sixty-one percent, however, believe that the federal government should lower taxes and provide fewer services.
Those contradictions are part of why working-class whites remain a contested and key demographic in the presidential contest, courted by both Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama.
The Public Religion Research Institute's findings could present a rude awakening for Romney, who has proposed tax cuts that would disproportionately benefit wealthier Americans. Yet working-class whites' views on government dependency might offer Romney some comfort, as his campaign has battled for the past few days to make a 1998 video of Obama saying that he favors "some redistribution" part of the election news cycle.
Although 70 percent of working-class whites believe the wealthy are favored under the current economic system, according to the Public Religion Research Institute, an even larger proportion of that same group -- 75 percent -- believe that poor people have become too dependent on government assistance programs.
Yet a large share of that same group has benefited from government services: 46 percent of white working-class Americans have received Social Security or disability payments at some point over the past two years, 22 percent have received food stamps and 19 percent have received unemployment benefits.
Perhaps it's unsurprising, then, that working-class whites remain undecided voters. The Public Religion Research Institute report found that a majority of working-class whites do not view Romney (55 percent) and Obama (56 percent) favorably. Nonetheless, Romney still holds a lead in this demographic: 48 percent of working-class white voters support Romney, while 35 percent of working-class white voters support Obama.
(Hat tip: the Washington Post's Greg Sargent.)
Earlier on HuffPost:
Workers are not reaping the gains of their extra productivity.
Worker productivity grew 11 times more quickly than worker pay between 1979 and 2011: While <a href="http://stateofworkingamerica.org/key-findings/" target="_hplink">worker productivity rose 69 percent</a>, median hourly compensation rose just 6.5 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute. [Chart credit: <a href="http://stateofworkingamerica.org/chart/swa-wages-figure-4u-change-total-economy/" target="_hplink">Economic Policy Institute</a>]
CEO pay has skyrocketed.
Maybe it's time to consider your CEO's massive pay package as a cut out of your own paycheck. <a href="http://stateofworkingamerica.org/wages/" target="_hplink">CEO pay is more than 200 times</a> that of a typical worker, up from 30 times that of a typical worker in the late 1970s, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
There aren't enough jobs.
At its current rate of job creation, the U.S. will not return to its pre-recession unemployment rate of around 5 percent before 2020, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Job growth was slow even before the recession.
From the Economic Policy Institute: "The business cycle from 2000-2007 is the weakest full business cycle on record for job creation, due to the fact that demand was insufficient to drive overall GDP gains that were robust enough to generate strong job growth." It appears that the middle class squeeze has hurt job creation and economic growth.
We are poorer than we could be.
Households in the middle fifth of income distribution would have been making $18,897 more per year as of 2007 if their incomes had grown as quickly as overall average incomes between 1979 and 2007, according to the Economic Policy Institute. (The sizable income growth for top earners since 1979 skewed the overall average.)
The rich have captured most income growth.
The top one percent captured 60 percent of total income growth between 1979 and 2007, while the bottom 90 percent was left with just 9 percent of the total, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Moreover, the top one percent's incomes rose 241 percent, in contrast to 11 percent growth for the bottom fifth and 19 percent growth for the middle fifth. [Chart credit: <a href="http://stateofworkingamerica.org/chart/swa-income-figure-2a-real-median-family/" target="_hplink">Economic Policy Institute</a>]
Wages have grown more quickly for the rich.
Wages for the top one percent spiked 131 percent between 1979 and 2010, while wages for the bottom 90 percent of workers rose just 15 percent over that same period, according to the Economic Policy Institute. [Chart credit: <a href="http://stateofworkingamerica.org/chart/swa-wages-figure-4h-change-real-annual-wages/" target="_hplink">Economic Policy Institute</a>]
The poorest Americans are earning less than in 1979.
Americans in the bottom tenth of the wage distribution earned less last year than the lowest earners did in 1979, accounting for inflation, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Meanwhile, the real wages of the median worker rose only 6 percent between 1979 and 2011.
The American Dream is eroding.
"Families headed by early baby boomers (born between 1945-1954) are the last generation (on average) to achieve higher living standards than the one that preceded them," the Economic Policy Institute says. Among families with incomes below $28,000 in 1994, less than 1 percent made it to the top fifth of incomes 10 years later, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
This has been a lost decade.
On average, hourly pay has not grown at all since 2002 for workers with a college degree or with only a high school degree, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Wages have not grown for college graduates in nearly every occupation, and college graduates in the 70th income percentile or lower have had stagnant or falling wages since 2000. [Chart credit: <a href="http://stateofworkingamerica.org/chart/swa-wages-figure-4a-change-total-economy/" target="_hplink">Economic Policy Institute</a>]