Red Nation, Pink Economics

Donald Trump drew support from counties where men’s jobs are going away, while women’s jobs are ascendant. There’s nothing he can do to change it.


The demographics of Donald Trump’s supporters is a well-rehearsed list: They are disproportionately male, white, older, less educated, not so hot on multiculturalism, and sometimes outright racist. But here’s one characteristic that’s not so commonly observed, yet perhaps equally important: They are also more likely to live in areas where economists expect technology to replace jobs in the near future.

According to an analysis by the economist Jed Kolko, counties with the most “routine” jobs—including manufacturing and clerical work, which are more susceptible to automation and offshoring— were far more likely to vote for Trump. In counties where less than 40 percent of jobs are "routine," Clinton won by more than 30 percentage points. In counties where more than 50 percent of jobs are routine, Trump won by more than 30 points. The concentration of routine jobs predicted Trump support far better than unemployment or income.

Most of these routine-based jobs are held by men. They are farm hands, factory workers, and steelworkers. On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly promised a return to an era of this sort of manly work. He praised Pennsylvania steelworkers and Indiana air conditioning manufacturers. He is on record saying that women shouldn’t work too much, because he expects them to be dutiful cooks and house-cleaners. Indeed, many of his supporters surely expect his presidency to entail a reversion to decades-old norms, where manly work returns to the labor force and women return to the home. Their view fits an international trend. A new paper by the political scientists Ronald Inglehart, at the University of Michigan, and Pippa Norris, at Harvard University, said Trump’s ascent fits within a global “counter-revolutionary retro backlash” especially among older white men who “resent the displacement of familiar traditional norms.”

It is too early to say with any certainty whether these men will get what they want from the Trump presidency. But there are some good reasons to think that, even as Trump’s victory represents the triumph of an old-fashioned male perspective, the future of U.S. work still belongs to women, at least in one sense.

There are seven occupations that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted will add more than 250,000 new jobs in the next decade: personal-care aides, registered nurses, home-health aides, combined food prep and serving workers (including fast food), retail salespeople, nursing assistants, and customer service representatives. Women account for more than 85 percent of most of these jobs, including personal-care aides (85 percent), registered nurses (89 percent), home health aides (90 percent), and nursing assistants (90 percent). In other words, the fastest growing jobs in America are about as dominated by women as an occupation like building-inspection or computer-repair is dominated by men.

Even more inevitable than the march of technology is the march of time. In the 1950s, less than 10 percent of the country was older than 65. That share will double to 20 percent by 2050. A significantly older population will require more health assistance, which is why the BLS is confident that the three jobs projected to add the most workers in the next decade are all in health care and personal assistance to the old, sick, and infirm.

It’s not like men can’t do this work; tens of thousands of men are already nurses and home-health aides. But many men don’t appear interested in these jobs, at least at these wages. To them, they are a downshifting of status, which is one reason why they are more likely to be done by minority women (and indeed, the fact that minority and immigrant female workers fill these jobs may also contribute to their perception as low-status). "Some of the decline in work among young men is a mismatch between aspirations and identity," Lawrence Katz, a professor of economics at Harvard University, has told me. "The growth has been in jobs that have been considered women’s jobs—education, health, [and] government."

Trump’s election may be an epochal event with the potential to change U.S. social policy on a host of issues, from abortion to trade policy. But there are some demographic and economic trends that a Trump presidency won’t change. First, America is going to keep getting older. Second, the jobs required to treat an older population will require many new workers to perform tasks that Americans have historically decided were mostly for women. Third, technology will continue to erode the supply of routine-based work, which is most heavily concentrated in the counties with the most Trump support. Today’s precarious white male middle class lurched for a reactionary authoritarian even after a year with low unemployment and healthy wage growth. What happens if their jobs actually start going away?