Exploring the Economic Determinants of Being a Red State

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Oren M. Levin-Waldman will discuss his most recent  article: “Exploring the Economic Determinants of Being a Red State” By Oren M. Levin-Waldman, http://www.YonkersTribune.com/?p=39719 on Wednesday, May 23, 2018th at 10am EDT on the Westchester On the Level radio broadcast. Listen “Live” or “On Demand”. Use the following hyperlink  http://tobtr.com/s/10783465 to hear the discussion with the professor on this very issue. (NOTE: This URL is activated 5 minutes before the 10am hour on the day of the broadcast and is thereafter part of our archive … To listen, make an inquiry, or share your perspective, please call 347.205.9201. Participants are asked to be respectful of all our guests and to stay on topic. This segment will air from 10-11am.


Exploring the Economic Determinants of Being a Red State By OREN M. LEVIN-WALDMAN

In the 2016 election we saw many states that had been blue (Democratic) in 2008 become red (Republican). One listening to the pundits might have concluded that this occurred because Trump voters were anti-immigration and otherwise racist. Certainly talk of a wall between Mexico and the U.S. fueled this perception.

At the same time, an examination of data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) shows that it was the changing nature of the economy that may explain more than concerns about illegal immigration. Perhaps the question that arises from this election, as it does from others, is what factors predispose states to become red?

Much has been made about the differences in culture between blue states — mostly on the coasts — and red states — primarily our flyover states. Let’s say it is a given that red states are generally more conservative than blue states. It is probably also a given that the populations of red states are more religious while the populations of blue states are more secular.

Ideologically, red states are more committed to individualism, or at least a version that stresses hard work and self reliance. Blue states, on the other hand, might be more embracing of an active role for government to help the disadvantaged and believe strongly that the rich have a moral obligation to pay higher taxes for the benefit of the poor.

The data, however, suggest that immigration really wasn’t much of a factor. Consider the following: In 2008 there was a statistically significant likelihood that states with Mexican populations and large non-citizen populations would also be red. The effects of these variables weren’t too strong, but they were factors nonetheless. It could be that these two variables had small effects because immigrants (both legal and illegal) will naturally gravitate to large cities which are more likely to be in blue states.

By 2016, these two variables had strongly negative effects for being red. Understanding data is complex and obviously cannot be reduced to two second sound bites. Calling people names in the language of identity politics can. And yet, if despite all the claims that Trump voters were racist xenophobes, the data doesn’t bear that out, then what caused blue states to become red?

The data cannot really answer that question, as statistical analysis cannot really prove causality. Rather, all it can show are strong correlations. What the data does suggest are serious economic transformations accompanied by shifts in the labor market. Although red states may be ideologically opposed to public assistance programs, the use of food stamps is higher in red states than in blue states

In 2008, those states where there were higher concentrations of craftsmen were more likely to be red. This is important because craftsmen speak to skilled workers. This variable had the strongest effect. It was actually followed by a higher use of food stamps than in the rest of the U.S. But other variables that were important were more people working in manufacturing and more people working as operatives — what might be considered higher paid blue collar workers than in the rest of the U.S.

Also states with fewer people working as laborers — what might be considered lower skilled workers — and lower levels of wage inequality than the rest of the U.S. were more likely to be red. By 2016, however, all of this changes. The major change appears to be the manufacturing base.

In 2016, a higher use of food stamps than the rest of the U.S. appears to have less of an effect for being a red state. While having a higher concentration of craftsmen is a factor, its importance relative to other variables has diminished. What has a strong positive effect is having more operatives than the rest of the nation. But in 2016 fewer people working in manufacturing had a strong effect for being a red state which might suggest that the decline in manufacturing perhaps predisposed some states to becoming red. In 2008 it had a negative effect.

The variables with the strongest effect for being red in 2016 were having fewer people with BA degrees and fewer people with graduate and professional degrees than the rest of the nation. These variables are negative in 2008. Also in 2016, states with higher levels of inequality are more likely to be red. This variable had negative effects in 2008.

What, then, does all of this mean? In general terms we can probably say the following: Although immigration was a big issue of the campaign for the White House, it is not at all important in 2016, or at least it isn’t in the data. But states that became red were more likely to have lower levels of manufacturing and higher levels of inequality. They were also likely to have lower levels of highly educated and/or skilled workers.

In other words, it is, as Bill Clinton in 1992 said: “the economy stupid. There is a connection between rising wage inequality and lower levels of highly educated and/or skilled workers. Increasing inequality speaks to the disappearance of the middle class. In an economy where there is an oversupply of low skilled workers, wages at the bottom will be suppressed and inequality will increase.

That a decrease in manufacturing was a key factor in states becoming red speaks greatly to the disappearance of the middle class. Manufacturing, was, after all, the base of the middle class for a long time. That lower levels of educated and/or skilled workers was a key factor in becoming red in 2016 perhaps speaks to the larger transformation in the global economy of new jobs requiring more skilled workers.

It would appear that states most likely became red in 2016 because the changing nature of the economy — mostly the disappearance of manufacturing — meant that there were fewer opportunities. Like it or not, Trump spoke to those anxieties; Clinton and the Democrats did not. On the contrary, they wrote off these concerns by effectively lumping all red state voters into a bucket of deplorables. The lesson for the Democrats, then, might be that if they want to win an election, they should concentrate on shoring up the middle class.


Restoring the Middle Class through Wage / Oren M. Levin-Waldman / Palgrave MacMillan


This book makes the case for minimum wage as a way to improve well-being of middle-income workers, reduce income inequality, and enhance democracy….


Minimum Wage: A Reference Handbook / ABC – CLIO


The Minimum Wage: A Reference Handbook By Oren M. Levin-Waldman. As of 2014, the minimum wage in Seattle is $15 an hour — double the federal minimum wage.


“Wage Policy, Income Distribution, and Democratic Theory” By Oren M. Levin-Waldman

Read the review of the just published “Wage Policy, Income Distribution, and Democratic Policy By Oren M. Levin-Waldman. http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415779715/#reviews



Oren M. Levin-Waldman, Professor at the Graduate School for Public Affairs and Administration at Metropolitan College of New York, Research Scholar at the Binzagr Institute for Sustainable Prosperity, as well as faculty member in the Milano School for International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy at the New School. Direct email to: olevin-waldman@mcny.edu


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