Category: Social Topics
In social work practice, theories of human behavior scientifically explain how people interact and react to their social environment (external stimuli).
One study of human behavior published in the Science Advances Journal classified 90% of the human population into four (4) basic personality types: optimistic, pessimistic, trusting, and envious. Identifying envy as the most common. This is important in the consideration of economic and political motivations during the 2016 Presidential Election.
As we continue our dialogue on the various facets of poverty, welfare and inequality there will be a series of articles discussing their realities in an affluent country like the United States.
By most standards we are the wealthiest, most powerful nation in the world, yet millions lack basic resources and opportunities for advancement. So, our political choices can drastically improve or damage these already extreme conditions.
Inquiring Minds Want to Know
First, many wondered (after the initial shock and, then again, after seeing the exit polls): “Why would so many women and Hispanics vote for Trump?’ Others asked, “Are evangelicals really powerful enough to pull this off?” Not to mention the strong convictions evangelicals carry about homosexuality, no less, gay rights. A critical position lost on Obama’s part with this demographic. Still, why would these morality-lifestyle preaching, family-values connoisseurs cast their lot with a crotch-grabbing, three-time married, shady business-dealing, confirmed philanderer.
But, more relevant to the point, the next looming question was this: “Why would so many of the nation’s poor vote for Donald Trump? Everybody knows he’s representing the rich, so why would poor people no matter the race or ethnicity vote against their own interests?” Well…there may be answers to this question most never fathomed.
Let’s review some of the possible social, political, and economic factors based on what we know about each of these demographics that may have influenced the outcome of the 2016 election.
While sharing many of the same Christian-beliefs it was assumed that even right-leaning Latino/Hispanics would reject the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Trump campaign. Yet, a significant amount of Hispanic men opted for the Republican ticket.
So, who were the “Hispanics for Trump” voters?
It could be rationalized that Hispanics have a cultural concept known as ‘machismo’. That is, male machoism. Could it be that Trump’s concerted effort to brandish himself as a man of strength hold captive an audience of men in this community? If so, then we can see how it may be possible that our Hispanic citizens (particularly the men) would rather vote for Trump than to elect a woman. But, that’s just one social context.
(Machismo is a sociocultural fact, by the way).
Besides male machoism, things like respect, dignity, and family values also rank high in interpersonal values with this group. As it relates to respect and dignity, concepts of hard work such as “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps” or self-reliance may have forged an emotional climate with the overall conservative agenda, even if Trump felt a little different.
On the economic front, Hispanics experienced a pecuniary surge in 2013 that surpassed African-Americans in real median household income, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. At last reporting in July 2017, Income and Poverty Reports show a $59,039 median household income in 2016 for all Americans (individuals and families). Real median income for white households was $61,858 and $65,041 for whites (non-Hispanic). The median household income was $39,490 for black households and $47,675 for Hispanic households.
This is a considerable increase in social and economic status for Hispanics whose median household income was just $27,588 in 1995.
Politically, this demographic also experienced an uptick in their share of the electorate at about 11%, up from 10% in 2012. However, voter participation of this group likely increased due to their population growth which may have also complicated the vote.
According to Latino/Hispanic community leaders, a combination of party loyalty and religion won out with this group as many opposed the skew toward gay rights and religious liberties of the Obama era. In addition, the majority of the population felt hopeful regarding Trump’s campaign promise to “give them a voice.”
Finally, we have to distinguish between the terms Latino and Hispanic and how each segment of this group identify. Yes, there are general cultural concepts within this demographic. But, the broad cultural diversity of Spanish-speaking groups and the countries they migrate from including Puerta Ricans, Mexicans, Cubans, Dominicans, Central Americans, and South Americans have differences and identify ethnically in different ways.
So, when Trump and his supporters chant, “Build the Wall…!”, maybe Cubans and Puerta Ricans, for example, didn’t take it personal and felt that it didn’t apply to them.
The social construct of gender is the most basic and pervasive unit of diversity. Meta-analysis studies on gender differences in cognitive abilities, personality traits, and social behavior between men and women generally show no more than a 5% variance. More specifically, research findings reveal greater differences within genders than between genders. That is, women differ more from other women than they do from men.
As such, let’s examine potential motivations and socioeconomic factors that may explain female political behavior during the Trump election.
We will focus on the white female vote since Hillary carried the minority vote with black and Hispanic women at 94% - she also (technically) outshined Trump with college-educated white women. Still, a great number of white female voters were underestimated.
Cambridge University Press cited party affiliation, sexism, and racial resentment – similar to white men on these biases in explanation of the voting preferences of white females in 2016. Hillary Clinton cited pressure from dominant white men, whether a spouse, boss, or a son for the reason why this demographic tapped the Trump-Pence ticket.
The assumption is that married white women support their husband’s choices because they earn less money and have less power making them financially-dependent on their men. According to an article in the Washington Post, it is within the interests of (married) white women to support political platforms and policies that protect their husbands and improve their status.
Hillary Clinton’s assertion deeply offended many women because she seemed to unilaterally draw on the psychology of female oppression alone. In fact, hierarchies of domination are experienced simultaneously but also differently by different types of women. Modern psychology also suggests familial and cultural influences weigh heavily on the development of gender identity and sense of self. So, contrary to popular belief, millions of educated, professional, independent women who voted for Trump at a rate of 40% were not under the direst of spousal or some other male-dominated pressure at the polls.
While the real median income of white households declined 1.7% between 2013 and 2014, the incomes of women (not race specified) increased by $1.6 million compared to men at $1.2 million during the same period. That is, despite economic disparities in the household and workforce, women began out-earning men by a whopping $400,000 in the years leading up to the 2016 presidential election.
So, men may not necessarily be the breadwinners in the household these days where women are coerced to act based on their husband’s wishes to secure their future. And if that is the case, then nearly half of this demographic voted for Trump despite his rollback on female reproductive rights and unabashed agenda to restore a patriarchal structure in society.
This was problematic when feminists tried to galvanize female solidarity against his presidency just a month later for the Women’s March. But, women rallied together, once again, for a nationally successful protest that solidified the #MeToo Movement. Still, why not vote the candidate who would have broken the ultimate glass ceiling then we wouldn’t have this battle to fight.
So, maybe we have to look at gender dynamics between women to better understand the outcome of the election. Did a large proportion of the female demographic simply distrust Hillary?
It remains a source of contention and mystery how Christians could reconcile religious adherence to Jesus with Trump’s immorality, immigration policies, blatant disregard for the poor, and the like. But, in order to elucidate the meaning of political behavior amongst this group we have to understand the historical context of religion in this country. Next, we must understand the cultural transformations taking place during the 70s and 80s that resurrected religious movements to combat social policies believed to take God out of American life.
It is important to note how strongly U.S. social welfare history has been influenced by Christianity than any other world religion but also the major historical trends that have shaped religion in the United States.
But, first, here are a few examples of religion’s current influence on American politics:
He is the founder of Andrew Wommack Ministries which sponsors his national and internationally-syndicated radio and television program “The Gospel Truth” where he is also host. He is founder and president of the Charis Bible College and the Association of Related Ministries International (A.R.M.I.). Pastor Wommack has established the Practical Government School, the first of its kind, within the Charis Bible College to train future political leaders. It is through these platforms, that Pastor Wommack and his cohorts decry the compartmentalization of secular issues from biblical values in politics.
The common thread between all three examples of interjecting Christian morality into politics are centered on four major issues: abortion, sexual orientation, marriage, and religious freedom. But the issues of poverty and inequality are rarely, if ever, mentioned. It is, therefore, questionable to many how Christians can summarily prioritize matters of personal choice over the needs of the poor in the course of doing “God’s work”.
Well, there’s a couple things at play here. On one end, because of constitutional changes such as abortion and gay rights religious leaders have become embattled with government over statutory regulations which are in violation of biblical principles. That is, because these issues have become “legalized”, when pastors preach against certain things, even from their own pulpits, churches are at worst, subject to legal action; or, at least, threatened by the loss of their non-profit status which protects them from taxation.
On the other hand, the United States is one of the most highly religious countries in the world. According to a study at University in Michigan about 46% of American adults attend church at least once per week. The vast majority of Americans also want their leaders to be religious. Despite the constitutional mandate to separate church and state, a study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life showed that 72% of American adults agreed that U.S. President’s should have strong religious beliefs (Karger & Stoesz, 2014). A similar study was conducted in the UK where 74% of citizens stated that religion should be a private matter and not have special influence on public policy.
But, let’s look at the historical context. Although the roots of social welfare are rooted in Judeo-Christian tradition which emphasized communitarianism, the philosophy of European Protestants prevailed during colonial times known as the Protestant Reformation. Christian forefathers such as Martin Luther viewed work as a responsibility to God. He preached that work conferred dignity and was a “calling” by God. In Luther’s view, man served God by doing the work of his vocation and persons who are able-bodied and unemployed were sinners.
John Calvin, another ecclesiastical theologian and statesman went further claiming that work carried out the will of God, and, as such, would ultimately help establish God’s kingdom on earth. Both Luther and Calvin believed that God-fearing people must work regardless of wage or type of employment. It was their belief that God commanded work, therefore the country was tasked with providing opportunity, and economic success became a sign of divine favor.
It is these sentiments that predominate religious circles today where poverty is viewed as “ungodly” and prosperity is distinguished not just as a sign of God’s blessing but His divine approval. Hence, the prosperity movement prevalent in current evangelical Christianity.
Herein lies the social context. This worldview references the concept in social sciences known as “material determinism.” It is the ideology that a culture’s material elements determine its values and beliefs, which in turn serve to maintain and perpetuate the material culture.
Karl Marx, 19th century philosopher, touted material determinism as a rationale for exploitative capitalism practiced by most industrial societies. He asserts that industry engendered low self-esteem among workers, and workers passively accepted the notion that competition and free enterprise were virtuous as well as their societies’ idealized vision of work. In Christendom, it is called the “Protestant work ethic” and it became the moral basis for capitalism.
Capitalism depends on the exploitative labor of the poor. For this reason, there is an express interest in poverty in order to have a system of winners and losers…haves and have nots. Understand that wealth is derived or accumulated through the poor - owners live off renters, and in biblical vernacular, “…the borrower is slave to the lender” (Proverbs 22:7). So, capitalistic societies will never rid itself of poverty because it is the basis of wealth. As the upper echelon decries the dependency of the poor (on government welfare), no one talks about the hidden reliance of the rich on the poor to build wealth.
Three times Jesus said, “…the poor will be with you always…” (Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, and John 12:8). It is no doubt He knew that poverty is not only socially engineered. That is, poverty is an inevitable evil wrought and maintained by the greed of man.
Then to seal the deal, democracy itself set forth a form of egalitarianism (equal rights, equal citizenship) but closely related was individualism which denied guarantee of the right to equal resources. As life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness was left to the idea of individual effort and motivation. Individual responsibility exonerated society from liability of personal failures for individuals who cannot not reach or achieve success on their own.
When we deal with poverty and welfare in the contemporary Christian context, there should also be a consideration of social policies that influence political behavior. We’ve already discussed hot-button political issues such as abortion and gay rights and how churches may be adversely impacted with legal and economic sanctions. Now, lets review an economic benefit of social policy for the Christian church.
President Bill Clinton established the Charitable Choice provision (Section 104) under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) also known as the Welfare Reform Act. It was during this time that evangelicals began to redress social services as a duty of the church circling back to origins of social welfare during the 18th century which were handled by traveling missionaries.
The Charitable Choice provision grants federal-funding to churches or faith-based organizations (FBOs), administered by the States, and opened the door to the faith-based social services usually for emergency food and shelter programs.
President George Bush was a fan of Charitable Choice and established the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives with units in five (5) federal departments:
Are faith-based organizations functioning as Political Action Committees (PACS) structured under religion? PACs are political organizations that raise money privately to influence elections, ballot initiatives, or legislation especially at the federal level. PACs are not lobbyists, but they certainly may finance them.
The Feminization of Poverty and Welfare Reform
The racial divide at the exit polls showed whites favoring Trump in every age group and at a higher percentage with age. The same is true for minority voters who were in favor of Hillary. Voters also split across lines on the education level as it revealed non-college educated white women preferred Trump over Hillary.
While Trump carried an estimated 40 – 45% of college-educated white women, Hillary maintained the majority vote of this demographic as well.
But. let's examine the socioeconomic history of women and femininity in this country.
A theory known as the feminization of poverty purports that traditional gender roles keep women poor because it impinges on their ability to secure and accumulate economic resources and reinforces her dependency in the family. Statistics show that divorced women, teen mothers, and women over the age of 65 are more likely to live in poverty. Women also traditionally earn less than men. This is stratified by both gender and ethnicity making Hispanic and African-American women the most vulnerable.
The expansion of the welfare state began its decline during the 80s and gained traction with conservatives “Contract with America” spearheaded by House speaker Newt Gingrich. President Bill Clinton closed the gap with the advent of Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) which made welfare both transitional and temporary stripping the entitlement structure from benefits. In effect, decreasing the federal government’s role in social programs.
The GOP strategy of retrenching or eliminating elements of the welfare state launched in the 1980s had four main purposes:
The strategy also began the trend of businesses pushing to lower the cost of production and depressing American wages. This was accomplished in two (2) ways:
This benefitted companies in other ways besides a reduction in production costs although the quality of products and services was also lowered but corporate taxes were nearly non-existent. It also began the elimination of the American middle class.
Although many politicians and citizens alike refuse to recognize legislative strategies that adversely affect the lives of people, government policies are the blame for the feminization of poverty. Poor women, like other minority groups, are blamed for their personal failures citing things like ethnic deficiencies and feminism (as a moral failure) for their poverty conditions. In the 1980s, illegitimacy and welfare became the purported hallmarks of the nation’s biggest social problems when in reality, the majority of single mothers were widows.
But political approaches can and usually do influence changes in the family structure. In fact, the marriage rate has long been on the decline while divorce and single motherhood continue to rise. Women were then forced into a gender-segregated labor market often in contingency jobs without health and childcare, and little financial security.
The conservative approach has and continues to perpetuate the idea that welfare encourages dependency by rewarding laziness, family breakups, and illegitimate pregnancies. That is, women are even blamed when men simply walk away or abdicate their familial responsibilities, even to children. Thus, began the long fight to control female reproduction, marital status, childrearing, and even job choices that is sexism.
Here a few of the policies that reinforced female poverty:
So, when it comes to economics, it is not as clear how any impoverished group, even whites, would “vote against their own interests” and elect to resurrect archaic ideologies of racial superiority (hence, the rant “Make America Great Again”) over matters of self-preservation and well-being like healthcare and income safety nets that is clearly needed.
Although the white population has the lowest rate of poverty, they also have the largest percentage of beneficiaries who rely on most major anti-poverty programs than any other racial group or population. Still, there is a growing trend of “welfare backlash” (whites opposing welfare) that fuels the GOPs latest outcry for welfare reform.
The assumption, here, is that the loss of income has become a perceived threat to white status due to minorities, particularly those on welfare who are believed to be draining the country’s resources. Political propaganda, in large part, can be blamed for this when false and misleading information is unscrupulously fed to the public. Unfortunately, this is common practice on the left and right sides of the aisle leaving a great deal of the public fallen prey to political agendas rather than making educated decisions about policy issues and voting preferences.
Let’s review some of the actual statistical data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Annual Income and Poverty Report (2014), income and poverty estimates did not include noncash benefits but was based solely on gross income. However, for the first time, a synonymous report was released on the same day using the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) was developed by the Obama administration in 2011 as an alternative to the Federal Poverty Line (FPL), our current poverty measurement system since 1964.
The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) is intended to present more accurate poverty estimates by including in-kind (noncash) benefits such as food stamps, Medicaid, housing subsidies, and other welfare benefits and counting them as income.
It should be noted that poverty measures such as the FPL and SPM are important because they provide the public and federal government information about the economic well-being of American citizens. They also provide useful information about how those living in poverty are affected by federal policies. Additionally, the use of annual poverty measures may be useful in providing general information regarding labor force participation, income sources, and amounts but fail to yield substantial information about economic mobility. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, it is estimated that poverty measures based on longer time frames (e.g. 4 years) rather than shorter periods (e.g. 1 year) would yield, on average, lower overall poverty rates.
Data from the Income and Poverty report suggests that real median income of white households (non-Hispanic) declined 1.7% between 2013 and 2014 but were not statistically significant from black, Asian, and Hispanic households. Women’s income increased $1.6 million between 2013 and 2014 compared to the earnings increase of men by $1.2 million.
The median household income for all Americans was $53,657 in 2014 slightly lower from $54,462 in 2013 but not statistically significant. The Income and Poverty report states that the year 2014 marked the third consecutive year that the annual change was not statistically significant after two (2) consecutive years of decline in median household income.
Household Median Income by Race 2014 (U.S. Census Bureau)
White $56,866 White (non-Hispanic) $60,256 Black $35,398 Hispanic $42,491
Household incomes for non-Hispanic White households declined 1.7% in 2013 from $61,317 to $60,256 but were not statistically significant for black, Asian, and Hispanic households. The last increase in median household incomes for black and non-Hispanic White households was in 2007, Asians in 1999, and Hispanics experienced the last median household increase in 2013. Comparing the 2014 income of non-Hispanic White households to other households, change in the ratio to black households has not been statistically significant from 1972 – 2014. Over the same period, comparing the Hispanic to non-Hispanic White household income ratio declined from 0.74 to 0.71. That is, the income and wealth gap between whites and Hispanics are closing at a faster rate than between whites and African-Americans.
The official poverty rate on the national level in 2014 was 14.8%. That is, 46.7 million people were poor in 2014 and was not statistically significant from the previous year. The 2014 poverty rate was 2.3 percentage points higher than 2007 (one year before the last recession) but was also not statistically significantly between racial demographics from the previous year.
More specifically, the national poverty rate for non-Hispanic White households was 10.1%, lower than the poverty rates for minority racial groups. Non-Hispanic Whites accounted for 61.8% of the population and 42.1% of the people in poverty (U.S. Census Bureau, 2014).
The black poverty rate in 2014 was 26.2% with 10.8 million living in poverty. This is significant because African-Americans only represent 13% of the total U.S. population. The Hispanic poverty rate was 23.6% with 13.1 million people in poverty. Poverty estimates for 2014 were not statistically significant from the previous year.
It should be noted that 13.5% of working-age adults (aged 18 to 64) were in poverty compared to the 10% poverty rate for seniors (aged 65 or older).
Poverty Statistics by Characteristics 2014 (U.S. Census Bureau)
White 12.7% White (non-Hispanic) 10.1% Black 26.2% Hispanic 23.6%
Notice that total numbers and percentages of any measurement may or may not be statistically significant. That is, measurements of the number and percentage of people living in poverty, for example, may rise or fall in any given year to the next without change to its statistical result, interpretation, or percentage rate.
A link has been provided to the 2016 poverty statistics for review.
Values have always underpinned human behavior - they also permeate our political system and direct social welfare policy. Whatever culture, perspective, or period in time, values tell us what we ought to provide and how we ought to deal with deviants (those who stray from the norms).
Values and attitudes are typically cloaked in religious, moral, or patriotic terms so much so that we accept them as facts rather than beliefs. When a worldview, political orientation, or behavioral response is value-laden rather than based in fact we can never be truly objective. For this reason, it is important not to draw conclusions, base judgments, and certainly make political decisions on value systems alone. Even what is known should always be tested.
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The Racial Wealth Gap Explained…A Sociopolitical Perspective
Redefining Social Welfare…Again
Stoesz, D. (2014). American Social Welfare Policy (7th Edition), Pearson Education, Inc., Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ
Eitzen, D.S. (2010). Solutions to Social Problems: Lessons from Other Societies (5th Edition), Allyn/Bacon, MA
Like it or Not, Studies Suggest that Clinton May Not Be Wrong on White Women Voting Like Their Husbands
Millions of Women Voted for Trump, and Didn’t Need A Man To Do It
What Gender Gap? Exit Polls Show White Women Voters Actually Preferred Trump to Clinton
“Why Evangelicals Support President Trump, Despite His Immorality”
“Christian Politics” – The Gospel Truth, Pastor Andrew Wommack Television Broadcast
“Understanding the Poor Will Always Be with You”
Attendance at Religious Services (Pew Forum Research Center)
Pro-Trump Pastor: ‘Trump is the most pro-Black’ President I’ve Ever Seen
Why More White Americans Are Opposing Government Welfare Programs
Resident Population of the United States by Race 2000 to 2016
Labor Force Characteristics by Race and Ethnicity 2014
Income and Poverty in the United States: 2014
U.S. Census Bureau Quick Facts (2016 Statistics, published July 2017)
Income and Poverty in the United States 2016
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Welcome to The Community Advocate Network. My name is Deborah Mitchell, I am a graduate in Social Work and Registered Social Work Technician. My human service background began in 2007 which includes medical case management and service navigation for the indigent population, outpatient mental health counseling with substance use and abuse disorders, supportive employment and job development for mental health consumers, and structured living domicile management.