With only six months to go before the midterm elections, a meta-narrative is emerging that the electoral landscape favors the GOP. Journalists, political strategists and talking heads across the political spectrum are regurgitating the pollster line that a majority of potential voters—especially the ever elusive “independent”—are leaning Republican in 2014. And polling data suggest that 18- to 29-year-olds aren’t interested in voting at all.
A recent Harvard University Institute of Politics survey found that less than 1 in 4 young Americans say they will “definitely be voting” this November.
Black and Latino millennials are said to be so disillusioned that they see no need to vote. They report that they’re even less likely—at a rate of 19 percent, compared with 27 percent of their white counterparts—to cast a ballot. By contrast, Republicans of every age are more enthusiastic about voting, with 44 percent saying they will definitely vote—compared with 35 percent of Democrats.
In general, these predictions follow historic trends in which Democratic constituencies are more likely to vote during presidential elections, while constituencies that lean Republican are more reliable in off-year elections. But recent changes in voting patterns among young and minority voters leave the continuation of those trends in doubt.
In 2008 and 2012, young African Americans voted in larger percentages (pdf) than their white counterparts. And the percentage of black voters of all ages exceeded that of whites. So has any pollster bothered to ask why young black millennials are unenthusiastic about this election?
Perhaps it’s because despite historic social progress, when it comes to economics, African-American millennials are about as likely to trail behind their white counterparts (pdf) as their forebears were during the Jim Crow era. According to research by the Economic Policy Institute, the minority unemployment rate—particularly that of young black high school and college graduates—is higher than that of whites, in good times and bad.
Despite the continued economic recovery, the unemployment rate of young white high school graduates currently sits at 19.4 percent, while the rate for young black graduates is 34.7 percent.
For young black college graduates the landscape is also bleak: Their unemployment rate is 13.1 percent, compared with 8 percent for their white counterparts.
The underemployed also face stark realities. While the overall unemployment rate of millennials is 8.5 percent, the underemployment rate is almost twice that, at 16.8 percent. And African Americans are disproportionately affected. Bureau of Labor Statistics data from 2011 showed an underemployment rate of 42.6 percent for African Americans under the age of 25, and 32.6 percent for Hispanics. Only 24.5 percent of young whites were underemployed.