Dog Whistles and Work Hours: The Political Activation of Labor Market Discrimination

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Many commentators have suggested that Donald Trump’s 2016 election emboldened discrimination against racial minorities. We focus on changes in weekly work hours among hourly paid employees during the five months following the 2016 election (relative to 12 months prior). Using two-wave panel data from the Current Population Survey, we find that black workers suffered temporary work hours and earnings losses relative to white workers in areas where Trump received greater electoral support. There were no within-person declines among non-Hispanic whites in high-Trump-support areas or among any groups in lower-Trump-support areas. These patterns are not driven by seasonality, industrial composition, or pre-election trends, suggesting that Trump’s victory exacerbated racial disparities where he received strong electoral support. The findings reveal how political events can catalyze surges of discriminatory behavior in labor markets over the short to medium term, and they provide new evidence about the effects of Trump’s early presidency on U.S.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)40-74
Number of pages35
JournalSociological Science
StatePublished - 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


  • Discrimination
  • Racial priming
  • Work hours


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