Donald Trump says that Democrats have failed American minorities, so let’s test his claim by the most basic economic criteria: What happened to the incomes of African Americans and Hispanics under Democratic and Republican administrations over the last 35 years? The data do not lie. The incomes of minority households — and in most cases the incomes of white households, too — grow faster under Democratic administrations than under GOP ones.
Under the last five presidents, African-American and Hispanic households made greater income gains under Bill Clinton than under Ronald Reagan, and more progress under Barack Obama than under George W. Bush despite the financial collapse and deep recession that began under W. Minority incomes also grew much faster under Obama and Clinton — and Reagan — than during George H.W. Bush’s single term.
These conclusions are not based simply on aggregate median income figures for each race and ethnicity. Instead, we use Census Bureau data to plot the real income paths of white and minority households headed by people ages 25 to 29 and ages 35 to 39, as they age through each administration. In this way, we capture the actual income experience of these households. Finally, we start our analysis of each president’s record in year two of his term, because the economic conditions in a president’s first year in office are largely set by the policies of his predecessor. Here are the results.
We can see, first, that income growth by young African American households, headed by people ages 25 to 29 averaged a remarkable 7.3% per year as they aged under Clinton, compared to 3.8% under Reagan. The incomes of comparable households also grew, on average, 2.9% per year under Obama (2010-2014), compared to growth of 1.8% per year under Bush 2, and income declines averaging 2.5% per year under Bush 1.
Somewhat older African-American households, headed by people ages 35 to 39 at the beginning of each administration, had income gains averaging 4.2% per year under Clinton, compared to 3.3% per year under Reagan. Comparable households saw incomes growth averaging .9% per year under Obama, compared to income declines of .7% per year under Bush 2 and of 2.6% per year under Bush 1.
The same general pattern holds for Hispanics. Young Hispanic households achieved income gains averaging 4.2% per year under Clinton, compared to 1.6% per year under Reagan. Under Obama, the incomes of comparable households grew an average of 1.3% per year under Obama, compared to .7% per year under Bush 1 and zero gains under Bush 2.
Further, the incomes of somewhat older Hispanic households rose at an average rate of 3.1% per year under Clinton, compared to 2.2% per year under Reagan. Comparable households registered income gains averaging 1.5% per year under Obama, compared to 0.3% under Bush 2 and income declines of 1.1% per year under Bush 1.
The pattern of income progress by white households is similar, but not quite the same. Households headed by young whites made more income progress under Clinton, with gains averaging 5.2% per year, than under Reagan when their gains averaged 4% per year. But the income growth of somewhat older white households under Clinton, averaging 2.9% per year, was matched by the gains of comparable households under Reagan.
Young white households also have fared better during Obama’s time in office, with income growth averaging 3.3% per year, than during the administrations of Bush 2 when their gains averaged 2.3% per year or his father, Bush 1 at 2.6% per year. And while the income progress of somewhat older white households under Obama, averaging 0.4% per year, is greater than the 0.1% per year gains by comparable households under Bush 2, Bush 1 outpaced both of them with gains by comparable households averaging 1.5% per year.
The stronger income progress under Democrats by minorities in particular reflects a number of forces and factors, but job creation is paramount. Job growth was much stronger under Clinton and Obama — and Reagan — than under either Bush administration; and minorities benefit most when the jobless rate falls sharply, especially when the economy nears full employment.
Given this record, it is unsurprising that only small percentages of African Americans and Hispanic Americans have favored recent GOP presidential candidates. Trump’s racially and ethnically charged rhetoric will likely drive his support from minorities to record low levels. But the difference in their support for Trump, as compared to Romney or McCain, will likely be pretty modest. In the final analysis, minority Americans usually vote their economic interest, much like most of the rest of the country; and the record of the last 35 years tells them that they will be better off under a Democratic administration than a Republican one.