In the Biden economy, Trump-voting counties pull ahead on jobs

Counties around the U.S. where a majority of voters supported former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election are regaining their lost jobs under President Joe Biden more quickly than counties that voted in favor of the current president, according to a new analysis of labor data.

Through the end of the first quarter, Trump-supporting counties have regained nearly all the jobs they lost when the pandemic first slammed the economy in March of 2020, with employment just 0.3%, or 124,000 jobs, short of where it was prior to the COVID-19 crisis, the Economic Innovation Group found. Counties where a majority of residents voted for Biden had a deficit of 1.7 million jobs — 1.8% short of pre-pandemic levels — by the end of the first quarter of 2022.

That Trump-supporting counties are, at least by some measures, performing better under President Biden than those that voted for him may seem surprising, but it partly boils down to differences in the initial impact of the pandemic on Red and Blue states, said Kenan Fikri, director of research at the Economic Innovation Group, a bipartisan policy research organization. For instance, Biden-supporting counties — home to major economic powerhouses like New York City and San Francisco — lost far more jobs in the pandemic than cities in Trump counties.

“It’s mostly that it was a much bigger gap to fill,” Fikri said of Biden-supporting counties. “They are recovering at more or less the same rate as other parts of the country — they just have a lot more room to go.”

In other words, the employment recovery in Trump counties has almost entirely rebounded because they didn’t have as many lost jobs to recover. In contrast, New York City is still missing 176,000 jobs that existed prior to the pandemic, the New York Times reported earlier this month.

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Fikri, who said the analysis sought to examine the strength of local economies ahead of this November’s midterm elections, emphasized that the strong employment rebound in Trump counties may not influence voters’ decisions. Although the job recovery has been robust in those areas, voters tend to be swayed more by their partisan views, as well as data about the national economy, he said. 

“Usually they’ll say, ‘Individually I’m doing fine, but the national economy is going to hell in a hand basket,'” he said. 

That sentiment is visible in CBS News’ polls of voters on their views about the economy and on Biden’s efforts to combat the highest inflation in 40 years. Almost 7 in 10 voters say the economy is now fairly bad or very bad, according to an August poll of more than 2,000 voters by CBS News. Across the board, however, nearly 6 in 10 voters say their personal financial situation is either very or fairly good, the poll found.

Population growth

Trump counties have one major demographic trend in their favor: faster population growth, the analysis found.

Between 2019 to 2021, population growth in Trump counties was 1.7%, while Biden counties saw population growth of about 0.7%. That is due partly to people relocating to areas of thee country with more jobs and a lower cost of living, such as Sunbelt states like Florida, Georgia and Arizona, which also happen to be home to many Trump-supporting counties.

“As people left major population centers for less populated locales, they were leaving a Biden county for a Trump county,” Fikri said. “Population matters because it’s the feedstock of the economy — it creates new customers and new workers.”

However, one important nuance is that much of that population growth in Trump counties was focused on larger metropolitan regions with strong economies, such as Phoenix, Arizona or Tampa, Florida, he added. But many rural Trump counties are shrinking in population as their residents age and younger workers move to bigger cities.

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Inflation impact

Not everything is rosy in Trump counties, with the report noting that inflation is hitting red states and those seen as “purple,” or where voters are divided between Republican and Democratic voters, harder than blue states.

For instance, the Mountain West — home to states including Arizona, Utah and Montana — had an inflation rate of 9.6% in August, higher than the national rate of 8.3% during the same month. New England, by comparison, had an inflation rate of 7.3% in August, EIG said, citing data from the Department of Labor. 

Tighter labor markets in Trump-leaning regions may be fueling inflation, Fikri said. But it could also be due to the cost of housing, which has become a major driver of inflation in recent months. Real estate prices in many popular cities and regions surged during the pandemic as people relocated, often due to the flexibility of remote work.