The latest unemployment report suggests those previously left out of the economic recovery in the wake of the Great Recession are now joining in the effort, which may turn out to be a midterm game changer. The country should resist the urge to use this group as a political wedge and instead enjoy the benefits that fuller employment bring to everyone.
Earlier this year, a newspaper headline summarized one of the defining aspects of the political divide in the country: “No jobs recovery for many Americans without a college degree.” Those who feel left behind by the recovery have generally been credited with President Donald Trump’s surprise win in the 2016 election.
In 2016, during the heated presidential campaign, the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Work Force did a deep dive into America’s divided recovery, shining light on the sharp divide among workers when it came to job growth after the Great Recession. The study showed that of the 11.6 million jobs created in the recovery up to that time, fully 11.5 million had gone to workers with at least some college experience. In other words, those with only a high school diploma or less were largely locked out of the recovery. Various surveys have characterized many of them as feeling helpless and angry. And enough of them showed up and voted for President Trump that some say it turned the election.
The data collected show the unemployment rate for those without a high school diploma dropping to 5.1 percent in July. This is not a small statistical blip of little consequence. The unemployment among this group peaked at a devastating 15.6 percent during the downturn.
Last week’s jobs report shows conclusively that the tide has turned for this group of workers and voters. Who they will credit for their improved circumstances and who they will blame for their delayed successes will be the fodder for talking heads and social media for the weeks that remain between now and the midterm election.
Midterm elections are notoriously unfavorable to the party in power, and the expectation is that this election will follow that trend, as the primaries in several states this week indicated. There is a growing possibility Democrats could retake the House.
However, if this group of voters remains a solid voting block and credits the Trump administration with their good fortune, the midterms could end differently than many expect.
With so much political power resting on the outcome, this election could further divide the country, particularly if the turnout is low, leaving the whole election process vulnerable to manipulation by extreme interests. A low turnout also raises the cost-benefit incentives for those willing to commit time and resources to disrupt the basic mechanisms of democracy.
The best outcome would be a large voter turnout where the voice of the people can be heard loud and clear despite all of the disparate interests — domestic and foreign — who may try to muffle or distort the voice of the American people.
The good news from the jobs market, however, must not get lost in the politically expedient fervor. Those who were previously left out of the recovery now have more opportunities for employment suited to their needs and abilities. This benefits everyone. All Americans should resist the temptation to use this success to further divide the country down deeply entrenched partisan lines.