(Bloomberg) -- The number of white working-class Americans dropped below 40% of the population for the first time last year, reflecting demographic shifts that could pose a challenge for President Donald Trump’s election in 2020.
White Americans without a four-year college represented 71% of the population in 1975. Their decline as a share of the population is expected to continue and they will no longer be the largest demographic group by 2034, according to a blog post Tuesday from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
There’s no single cause for the decline. More Americans are seeking a college education, and leading causes of death — including the opioid epidemic, alcoholism and suicide — are hitting working-class whites hardest. And birth rates for whites are slowing compared with nonwhites.
“Whatever the cause, the decline of this group will undoubtedly continue to have lasting economic and social consequences for the U.S.,” researchers Bill Emmons, Ana Kent and Lowell Ricketts wrote in the blog post, which focused on the demographic trends and didn’t mention the political implications.
Among those consequences: the shrinking of one of Trump’s most reliable voting blocs. White voters without a college degree supported Trump by 66% to Hillary Clinton’s 29%, according to 2016 exit polls. Among men in that group, the margin was even higher, 71% to 23%.
That’s the largest support from white working-class voters for any presidential candidate since 1980, according to the Pew Research Center.
Trump also won college-educated whites, but by a smaller margin of 48% to 45%, while Clinton won large majorities of black, Latino and Asian voters.
While the ranks of working-class whites has dropped 2% nationally since 2016, they remain a slight majority in the Midwest, the report notes.
That’s a key 2020 battleground where the Trump campaign is focusing its turnout efforts in swing states like Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. The Midwest has also been hit hard by the manufacturing slowdown, exacerbated by the U.S.-China trade war Trump has steadily escalated.
The steepest declines in the white working-class population have been in the Northeast and Western U.S., the report showed. In the West, the non-white working class now outnumbers the white working class.
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